Final-year high school students are faced with a difficult decision when selecting their undergraduate major of choice. Often, the decision is made even more difficult by uncertainty about what different majors entail. Petroleum engineering in particular is a discipline that is generally not explored within high school classrooms and therefore students lack understanding about the roles of engineers in the oil and gas industry. To combat this uncertainty, this paper explores the potential of running pre-college project-based learning programs to increase high school students’ interest in and familiarity with pursuing various undergraduate STEM disciplines and careers. More specifically, this paper provides an insight into two case studies of novel STEM education programs, developed to enhance a group of high school students’ understanding of petroleum engineering.
The programs were designed to increase students’ interest in learning about the selected petroleum engineering concepts, namely polymer flooding to enhance oil recovery and multiphase fluid flow in porous media, while simultaneously providing an understanding of the current global challenges faced by the oil and gas industry. The program also aimed to engage students in learning and applying fundamental engineering skills to relatable real-world issues. These project goals will help facilitate the desire, commonly seen in recent years, of developing countries to increase their oil and gas production. This program was applied during the Summer Engineering Academy program offered by Texas A&M University at Qatar, which provides an innovative educational space for high school students. The program was conducted with the main objective of allowing the students to understand the basic concepts of petroleum engineering via short lectures as well as laboratory experimentation. Students in Grades 9-11 spent 10 days learning about petroleum engineering applications that integrated science, engineering, and technology where they designed, built, and tested an experimental setup for understanding various processes in petroleum engineering. Students were expected to solve a common problem faced in the petroleum industry. At the end of the program, the students gained an understanding of the issues and recommended unique solutions to these problems in the form of oil-recovery based projects presented to a panel of experts. This program attempted to build bridges between the STEM education pipeline of rapidly developing countries, such as Qatar, and the new demand for talent in the oil and gas sector. The details of this novel program are presented, including the content, preparation, materials used, case studies, and the resulting learning outcomes.