Utica Shale Academy prepares to graduate first class May 28

May 22, 2015
Shale Play

SALINEVILLE - The Utica Shale Academy is preparing to graduate its first class on May 28, adding some newly minted prospects to the oil and gas workforce.

Members of the USA Board of Directors met on May 8 in the Southern Local School District to finalize details for the event. A dinner and graduation ceremony are slated in the Southern Local High School gym beginning at 6 p.m. with commencement to follow at 7 p.m.

Brian Logue of Express Energy will be the speaker and nearly a dozen prospective alumni and their families will join USA officials, academy board members, and representatives of the Jefferson County Educational Service Center, the latter which is sponsoring the community conversion school.

The board approved the list of the newest alumni during the meeting and President Dr. Charles Joyce expressed his pride in the students' achievement.

"We have a list of 11 solid graduates. That is really terrific," Joyce said.

Program Director Eric Sampson said the students are getting a chance that they may not have had in a traditional school setting.

"Through this program, a number of kids will obtain a diploma they otherwise may not have had. I'm extremely proud that they were able to get this done," Sampson added.

The conversion school began last September and has been housed at SLHS, where it has educated more than 40 students in a blended learning curriculum featuring virtual learning, hands-on activities, lectures from shale industry representatives and field trips to area rig sites.

Since then, expansion plans are in the works for a total of five sites in Columbiana, Jefferson and Belmont counties. Sampson and Dr. Charles Kokiko, chief academic officer with the JCESC, also informed the board that the academy's name was becoming known throughout the community and more industry officials were taking notice. Both said recent involvement in oil and gas-related functions has drawn interest among trade unions and companies and contacts were made to enhance opportunities for future students through education, jobs, field trips and possible apprenticeships.

"We went to a gas and oil expo and talked to [trade unions]. They said, 'We want these kids,' so it's a great marriage," Sampson commented. "I had a gentleman ask where to go to hire students and I told him to talk to me. We were very well-received by the industry. We made a lot of contacts for more opportunities for our students."

He continued that students from Marietta College's engineering program-which is among the premier in the country-were amazed that the shale academy existed and wished they had a chance to attend.

"That is such a great thing," Dr. Joyce told Sampson. "[The graduates] are going to appreciate this and society will too because they are going to work. We appreciate your efforts this year, both inside and outside the classroom."

"I think we've seen a definite increase in interest in the trade unions," Kokiko said. "I was at another event and the head of the petroleum engineering program at Marietta said energy [opportunities were] in seven counties in Ohio and we'll be major players for the next 100-150 years."

The board also approved the five-year forecast, which Finance Officer Don Donahue said operations appeared to be on a steady course through 2020. Officials said since more school districts in the region were taking part, there was an increase in students. Similar conversion schools are being formed in Columbiana and Belmont County with another to open at Buckeye Local High School in Jefferson County this fall. Dr. Kokiko said sites in Barnesville and BLHS were moving forward and he and Sampson would be meeting further with Columbiana leaders on those plans. He also explained that the increase in students, which totals 100 throughout the three counties, has afforded the opportunity for more course selections. He said a deal between JCESC and the PetroED program provides access to 300 courses.

Leaders also announced that the shale academy's application through the Pathways program has been approved and is at the Ohio Department of Education. Hopes are to expand further but also maintaining a united front with sites under the USA umbrella.

"We want to show we are all united so students have an opportunity to find jobs," said JCESC Superintendent Dr. George Ash.

"We appreciate all of your efforts," said Dr. Joyce. "We're at the tip of the spear because so much more is going to happen."

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