BUCKHANNON — The Tom Dunn Energy Leadership Academy was founded in 2012 by the Independent Oil and Gas Association in order to teach students from across West Virginia about the energy industry.
Now in its sixth year, the academy aims to inform students that the energy industry is prevalent in their state and that there are job opportunities available to them. This year the academy, which is named after the late Upshur County energy pioneer Tom Dunn, took place at West Virginia Wesleyan College from July 11-13.
Dennis Xander, director of the Tom Dunn Leadership Academy, said the program does not just benefit students, but also the energy industry.
“It’s not just a benefit to the students,” Xander said, “it’s also a benefit to the industry. The industry requires people to function, and for too long we have lamented the fact that students from West Virginia are forced to leave the state to find employment. The oil and gas industry is helping to fill that void and offering opportunities.”
The first day of the academy featured an industry overview where the students were taught how wells are drilled and fractured, and later professionals throughout the field came to talk to the students about their various jobs. The next day featured a leadership session, and Xander said this is one of the most important aspects of the academy.
“We try to be selective,” Xander said. “We look for students who are involved in other activities and we look for recommendations from their teachers. We are looking for the leaders of the future, there is a reason we are called the Tom Dunn Leadership Academy.”
That same day the academy took the students on field trips to a processing plant, well pad and drilling rig.
High school junior Summer Aguiar of Upshur County said touring the plant was something she would remember the most from the program.
“I’m going to remember the tour we took of the processing plant the most, because it was a lot of fun and it was cool to see how everything actually works,” Aguiar said.
Aguiar applied for the program because her family works in the oil and gas industry.
“My mom and dad are both with an oil and gas company and I know there is a lot of good money and scholarships in it, so that’s why I came,” Aguiar said.
The final day of the academy featured a course on pipeline safety from Buckhannon’s own Brittany Moody, and then colleges from across the state came to tell the students about the programs they offer for those wanting to work in the energy industry.
Lewis County junior Ellie Shiflett said she appreciated seeing all the colleges so they know what they offer.
“I like how they brought in all these colleges to show us all the options we have, because they all have programs that deal in oil and gas,” Shiflett said.
Shiflett said she went to the academy because her sister attended previously.
“My sister came to it a few years ago and she said it was really fun, and now she’s going to college for petroleum engineering,” Shiflett said.
After the final college presentation, parents and students were treated to lunch where they could ask college representatives questions about their programs. The academy is free of charge for attendees, who stay on the Wesleyan campus to experience what it is like to live in a dorm and eat in the dining halls.
The Tom Dunn class of 2017 featured 35 students from across the state.