State of UTPB covers academics to quality of life

University of Texas Permian Basin Chairman of Geosciences Robert Trentham, center, speaks during the State of the University event at the Odessa Country Club Wednesday, April 10, 2024, as UTPB President Sandra Woodley, right, and Adriana Berzoza, Halliburton Account Representative and UTPB graduate, listen. (Courtesy Photo)

From energy and innovation to workforce and quality of life, University of Texas Permian Basin celebrated its impact on the region Wednesday during the State of the University event at the Odessa Country Club.

Before a packed room of elected officials, dignitaries, business people, graduates, faculty and students, President Sandra Woodley and panelists talked about how far the university has come in its 50 years of existence. Videos with students, faculty members, and graduates were interspersed.

Panels included Impacting Energy and Innovation, Impacting Workforce and Impacting Quality of Life.

UTPB’s role in preparing students for industry careers was discussed with a focus on its connection with industry leaders and opportunities for practical experience through internships.

Speakers emphasized the importance of collaboration between the university, industry and the community to enhance the overall quality of life in Odessa and Midland.

Woodley said UTPB is proud of how it supports students and noted that it has many first-generation students like herself who work full time and tale care of their children while they’re going to school.

“The scholarships that we’re able to provide from the generosity of the University of Texas System and PSP (Permian Strategic Partnership), Scharbauer (Foundation) and many other funders, it’s really important that those scholarships have been there to allow us to take away that financial barrier,” Woodley said.

One of the most prominent scholarships is Falcon Free. For families that make $100,000 or less, the Falcon Free scholarship covers 100% of undergraduate tuition and mandatory fees for eligible students; enables you to earn your degree with no loans or debt; and applies to first-time freshmen, transfer students and current students.

The average cost of tuition and fees for a resident undergraduate is $9,232.78, information from the event said.

UTPB has 7,500 students enrolled annually and has had 30,445 graduates over 50 years. It started out as a junior-senior institution.

Attendees listen during a panel at the University of Texas Permian Basin 2024 State of the University event at the Odessa Country Club Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (Courtesy Photo)

Chairman of Geosciences Robert Trentham said when he first came to UTPB in 2001 there was disconnect between oil and gas. To make that connection, he had to listen, participate in all the society meetings and tells students they must network with the industry.

Adriana Berzoza earned a petroleum engineering degree and an MBA from UTPB and is now an account representative for Halliburton. She said UTPB has impacted her career in many different ways. Her professors taught her what she needed to know about the industry and gave her real-world life experiences that would further impact her career.

Berzoza, who was homecoming queen and a softball player, said bringing the university and industry together benefits both sides.

“From the industry standpoint and my specific job, I have the unique position where I’m able to give back to the university and I come here and I’m able to go to job fairs with them. I remember what it was like being a student and how scary it was to try to talk to the different oilfield companies because you only know what you know. It’s such a big industry. It’s not something that you can learn all from class, so I’m happy to help that adjustment period for them. Also, I come back and do lunch and learns with the university, with different organizations and offer any support that I can,” Berzoza said.

On the Impacting Workforce Panel, Permian Strategic Partnership CEO Tracee Bentley said their chairman, Don Evans, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, likes to remind people that the Permian Basin is the largest, most secure energy basin the world.

“If we were a country, we would be the third largest energy producing country in the world. The two that are above us are arguably not … some of the friendliest places. That makes us even more important. We also know that geopolitically what’s going on around the world, the U.S. needs to continue to be that stronghold. One of the ways to do that is through energy security. When you add all that up, it was the emphasis on the importance of the Permian Basin. I think for some of us who live here and call it home, it’s easy to forget about the importance of the work that we all do here. It’s going to only grow in importance. As we look at the next 50, 100 years of the Permian Basin, we know that our resource is going to continue to grow in importance, but also in scale,” Bentley said.

“We know that we’ve only developed about 9% of the mineral that is under our feet; 9%. As technology grows, we’re going to be able to harvest even more of that,” Bentley said.

Permian Strategic Partnership President and CEO Tracy Bentley, center, speaks during University of Texas Permian Basin’s 2024 State of the University event as Jose Mendez, chief financial officer of The Sewell Family of Companies and a UTPB graduate, and Senior VP for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Becky Spurlock, listen at the Odessa Country Club Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (Courtesy Photo)

So the question becomes how is the region going to have a workforce it can rely on and the world can rely on.

“The obvious choice is petroleum engineers, accountants, computer science, specialists, operations managers. Those are the things that come to mind,” Bentley said.

Those can come in one of two ways.

“We can ask those folks to come in for two weeks while they live other places (and) come to their jobs on a rotational basis, or we have an opportunity to task them to become part of our community, to become part of our fabric of what makes our community so amazing. We have an opportunity … to grow our purpose. Now is that opportunity because this resource is going to get developed one way or another. But we all in this room have an opportunity to say let’s grow with purpose, and let’s continue to grow our community,” Bentley said.

Bentley said PSP will continue to invest heavily in education and healthcare.

“We think we’ve just scratched the surface. … When you look at data that shows all of the growth opportunities within the university to continue to grow our own in healthcare, in education and beyond. It is really exciting,” she added.

She added that the ability to sit down with leadership and say here’s the data and opportunities and if it doesn’t exist, “let’s build it.”

“That’s unique. You just don’t find that everywhere else.

Jose Mendez, chief financial officer of The Sewell Family of Companies and a UTPB graduate, helps recruit students for the company. He said you don’t have to sell them on the town because it’s home to them.

“We are very happy with the partnership we have with the university,” Mendez said.

He added that there are many students working for them that can’t wait to come on full time after they graduate.

Attendees applaud during the University of Texas Permian Basin 2024 State of the University event at the Odessa Country Club Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (Courtesy Photo)

Midland Mayor Lori Blong talked about the young demographics and Wildcatters Trail planned by UTPB, City of Midland and Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The average median age in the area is 31.4 years old and the largest demographic in Midland is ages 0 to 4.

“We have to find a solution to provide outdoor amenities that will attract these folks to our community. I’m proud to talk about this $6.4 million grant that UTPB has received to begin construction from the UTPB Odessa campus and begin building that toward Midland. We have the over $3 million grant that the City of Midland has received for construction of the Wildcatters Trail. Ultimately, we’re going to be applying for additional grants and placing more money in each of our budget cycles toward this project to begin to build that through the Midland-Odessa area and be able to have this corridor where people can ride and run safely. It’s one amenity that’s a critical component for both of our communities,” Blong said.

“I will add that oil and gas companies are major players in this conversation as well. We’re working with the landowners and everyone else that’s between our two cities. This is truly a collaborative project,” she added.

Meanwhile, Blong said the region’s rig count has come down to 313 today, which is below the 353 rigs from this time last year. Yet production records continue to break records month over month and the population continues to grow.

“We need to make sure that we’re doing what it takes to attract and retain talented and qualified individuals to our community. But we’re not just interested in building industry. We’re building communities, and we care about families. Midland and Odessa are primarily family-oriented communities. These quality of life initiatives with parks and with other amenities of shopping and all the things that we’re trying to attract to our community, really have those families in mind. We know that if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. So we’re trying to find things for families and we’re trailing spouses, to be able to engage in our community and make sure that they feel tied in. If you talk to people who are transplants to Midland and Odessa, they talk about this as a huge win for their careers. But more than anything, they care about the people in Midland and Odessa, and we want to continue to provide for that to thrive,” Blong said.

University of Texas Permian Basin Mariachi perform Wednesday, April 10, 2024, during the UTPB 2024 State of the University event at the Odessa Country Club. (Courtesy Photo)

Vice President for Athletics Todd Dooley talked about the success of athletics at UTPB, but also how it creates a sense of belonging on and off campus.

“Everybody has a chance to be a Falcon if you enroll in UTPB. Not many people have a chance to be a Dallas Cowboy or a Texas Ranger, but you can be a UTPB Falcon, right. … That’s a belonging community. Even if you’re long from another institution, you can become a UTPB Falcon. I think having those opportunities to bring the community together and get behind athletic programs and successful programs, really feeds into the overall university, allows recruitment to happen … Athletics isn’t the most important thing on campus, but it’s definitely the most visible thing,” Dooley said.

If athletics can introduce people to the university, he added, that’s the part they want to play.

The event was sponsored by Southwest Bank.