Texas A&M University at Galveston prepares Aggie engineers for lucrative ocean related careers.

blakeIn 2000, Blake Sanchez (’14) saw a billboard that changed his life.

“Four years ago, I happened to be driving in the Clear Lake area (near the Bay Area of Greater Houston) and saw a billboard for Texas A&M at Galveston,” Sanchez said. “It was advertising marine programs, and the ocean engineering one caught my eye. I decided to look into it, because the campus is located on the coast only a few miles from the oil and gas capital of the world.”

At the time, Sanchez was studying for a career in media production, but needed a greater challenge like ocean engineering. After seeing the billboard, he took a chance, applied to Texas A&M at Galveston and never looked back.

This choice may prove to be the path to a lucrative career for Sanchez. In a 2013 article, the Houston Chronicle reported that ocean engineering was ranked number five in the top five most profitable bachelor’s degrees in Texas based on annual salaries for graduates from 2011. Since 1974, the Galveston campus of Texas A&M has been preparing generations of students for ocean and coastal engineering careers. With degrees in offshore and coastal systems engineering, graduates design marine structures for ocean environments and oversee coastal process projects. As offshore engineers, they produce and maintain hardware for offshore oil platforms, breakwaters, sea walls and bulkheads. As coastal engineers, they direct beach nourishment and shore protection projects.

Sanchez claims he wants to be a well-traveled, old man engineer one day. In May 2014, as he steps across the commencement stage to receive his degree, he will be on the way to realizing his dream.

“I want to get involved with subsea hardware,” Sanchez said. “Seafloor technology is rapidly becoming complex, and I want to be part of the deep water curve. My goal is to always stay relevant and never stagnate; this field is perfect for my pursuits.”

Sanchez has already had a job offer from Aker Solutions, a subsea engineering company and a query from McDermott International engineering firm.

Career Success

blakeKen Bailey, the university’s career counselor said prospects for graduates like Sanchez are good.

“In the 12 years I’ve been associated with the university, there’s always been a demand for our engineering graduates,” he said. “The offshore and coastal sectors are hungry for engineers, and they pay well.

“Our graduates have been employed by Chevron, Keiwit Offshore, Heerema, Hercules Offshore, Wood Group, Technip, and Oceaneering to name a few,” Bailey said. “A total of 12 out of 13 grads with this degree had jobs, or were accepted into graduate programs by the Spring 2013 graduation. The 13th grad was hired shortly afterward by Keiwit Offshore.

According to Bailey, as of Spring 2013, the entry-level offshore coastal engineering salary ranged from $70,000 to $90,000 per year.

Beyond salary, Sanchez is proud of the benefits of his degree.

“The biggest value for my career is the name and backing of Texas A&M,” he said. “People know the good reputation of the university. With this degree, you can literally work anywhere in the world. I want to be based in Houston, but I’d love to go to Singapore, Dubai, Australia or wherever the work is.”

Sanchez says he worked hard to get to this point and along the way, the greatest lesson he learned started with a frustrating challenge.

“When I was a sophomore, I got kicked in the face here,” he said. “There’s a very difficult class — Statics. It was daunting and overwhelming at first, but midway through the class, everything snapped into place. When I got the A, I realized I can do this. That carried through my entire collegiate career, and I know it’s going to carry through my entire professional career.

“Now, I can better solve any problem in life, whether it’s a technical or personal situation. Dr. Sweetman challenged me to do my best. He said, ‘you make your brain jump through hoops.’”

Educating engineers

sweetmanDr. Bert Sweetman, head of the Galveston engineering department, is not just in the business of educating engineers.

“We’re not just building engineers,” he said. “We’re expanding brains, and teaching students to think as engineers. At present, our entire faculty has industry experience that provides students with real-world skills to obtain a professional stable job for the rest of their lives — a job that may afford them a degree of wealth.”

Sweetman said the university’s offshore and coastal systems engineering curriculum is cutting edge to comply with latest industry standards.

“The oil industry is exciting, progressive and high tech,” Sweetman said. “Both offshore and coastal engineering are about waves and wind; physics and economics. Our degree prepares students for deep water offshore oil and gas careers and coastal engineering careers. In most other programs ocean engineering is a graduate degree. We’re unique in that we offer a master’s level education for a bachelor’s degree related to the ocean.

Sweetman said the only durable assets of any academic institution are its faculty and good reputation.

“We have both in our joint teaching/research model,” he said. “Students receive world-class teaching on our Galveston campus and benefit from engineering research. My doctoral students are getting degrees at Texas A&M in College Station and our professors have joint appointments on both campuses. Our campuses complement each other.”

Sweetman said top-notch faculty and outstanding researchers offer students a world-class ocean engineering degree that leads to good job prospects.

Success Story

When Sean Musick graduated from Texas A&M Galveston in 2007, he had great potential for his career success.

“I chose the right place for my career plans,” he said. “It had resources of a major university and class size of a small campus. What I learned about engineering, and what I gained as a member of an award-winning varsity rowing team, helped me with what I do now.” 

Musick started his career as part of structural engineering evaluation team with W.S. Atkins Global, one of the world’s leading design, engineering and project management consultancies. His work took him to Trinidad and Tobago; Nigeria and the United Kingdom to evaluate the integrity and viability of offshore structures against various environmental conditions. A few of the extreme conditions were fire and blast loadings, hurricane speed winds and waves, and degradation of exposed structural components.

“The job was well worth my time, and I have learned a lot” he said. “I started out in equal range with my peers, but learned I was better suited for the job than engineers who came out of other programs. All I had to do was understand the scope of the project, whereas counterparts from other schools had to be trained on basic terminology in understanding offshore oil and gas structures and principles. I worked in that particular field for three years, and then began to transition to a business improvement and project management role focusing more on project controls, overall project execution, and quality management. I did this for three or four years, and then got a call to work with Wood Group Mustang.”

Wood Group Mustang Engineering is an international engineering firm, which employs half its workforce, 4,000 people, in Houston.

As corporate quality manager for Wood Group Mustang, Musick oversees a team that ensures engineering deliverables are executed in accordance with design and engineering plans. Musick interacts with all engineering disciplines, such as, offshore floating and fixed structures, mechanical, and pipeline facilities that move oil and gas reserves and transfer them to refineries.

“I’m willing to work hard and do things others don’t necessarily want to do,” he said. “If you’re willing to persevere, you can make a great career and honest living in engineering. Aggies persevere. We’re willing to go the extra mile.”

Industry view

Musick’s boss, Don Leinweber (’75) agrees that Aggies go the extra mile. As vice president of corporate services for Mustang, Leinweber shares the same work ethic and team spirit as Musick.

“Mustang endeavors to be a client’s first choice for engineering, procurement and construction services related to onshore, offshore, pipeline, automation and process plants worldwide,” Leinweber said. “I hired Sean, because Mustang needed to grow our quality group. The company wanted to globalize their quality systems. This required hiring a qualified engineer who could assess and integrate our quality management systems to ensure that nothing the company designed would bring harm to people or property.

“We are interested in hiring ocean engineers for technical offshore work,” Leinweber said. “We look for people who are self-motivated and not afraid to work. Our recruiters have found that many Aggie graduates from Galveston are better prepared than those from other programs. We get more leadership DNA and service-oriented professionals in these Aggies we hire.”

“I knew Sean could help us do that,” Leinweber said. “He had this type of experience, and we needed someone to take us to the next level in quality. I knew he had the tenacity to get the job done, and he has. He gets many compliments from senior leaders. We hear so much positive feedback about recruiting Galveston students like Sean. A&M just does it right.”

Media Contact: Cathy Cashio Bertrand, 409-740-4830, cashioc@tamug.edu