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Earth Sciences team takes national award

By Kelly Foss

The Memorial University team may have gone into the Canadian regional Imperial Barrel Award competition as underdogs, but they emerged as the clear winners.

Calling themselves Rock Enerji, Tiffany Piercey, Burcu Gacal Isler, Jennifer Cranshaw and Adam Gogacz – all graduate students from the Department of Earth Sciences – successfully beat participants from three other Canadian universities to win a place at the world championships.

The Imperial Barrel Award is a competition for geosciences students from around the world sponsored by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. It takes place in Denver, Colo., in June.

To get there, 89 teams from Canada, the United States, Europe, Asia Pacific and Africa competed in regional play-offs to determine the 12 teams who would go forward to the next stage of the competition and vie for the top prize of $20,000.

The Canadian competition saw Memorial University go head-to-head with students from Dalhousie University, the University of Calgary and the University of Alberta.

Dr. Elliott Burden, an Earth Sciences professor at Memorial and the team’s coach, said the teams were given eight weeks to review a case study with the task of finding hydrocarbons in an unfamiliar geographic area. In Memorial’s case it was a piece of property in Australia.

During the competition they had to showcase their results in a 30-minute presentation to a panel of industry experts.

“The best teams that either discovered the most hydrocarbons or presented the best sales pitch for finding the new oil would score the highest grades,” he said. “It gave the students a good hands-on experience in practical work in the oil business. This is a major component of what they will be asked to do on a weekly basis in the oil industry, but something students might not necessarily see until they get into the work force.”

Dr. Burden said the four participating Canadian universities all have strong petroleum geology programs.

“Memorial’s win demonstrates to the oil industry that we are a respected and respectable institution that is able to do this sort of work,” he said. “It certainly demonstrates that to our provincial government and to the general public as well. We’re doing our jobs and doing it well.”

A major emphasis of the competition was the ability of participants to work together as a team. Despite the fact that its members all come from different fields of study, Rock Enerji left no doubts on that front – especially when the group showed up in matching burgundy and black clothing.

“As soon as Memorial walked into the room they looked over and said, ‘There’s the Memorial team,’” said Dr. Burden.

Gacal Isler said the team took the competition seriously, working 16 hour days in the final weeks leading up to the event.

“We worked on our theses during the days, and on this competition during the nights and weekends,” she said.

Earth Sciences presents $50,000 in scholarships

Undergraduate and graduate Earth Sciences students were feted last week as the department held its annual scholarship and awards presentation.
Approximately $50,000 was presented to top students of what department Head Dr. John Hanchar said was one of the largest and strongest Earth Science departments in Canada.

“Each year, we produce about eight to 10 per cent of Canada’s professional practicing earth scientists,” said Dr. Hanchar. “Not bad for a province with only two per cent of Canada’s population. Our students, our programs and our research programs are broadly recognized worldwide. We aim to stay that way.”

Joining Dr. Hanchar for the presentation were members of professional associations, learned societies, academia and family members of some of the department’s named scholarships.

During the event, the department head also made special recognition of the members of Rock Enerji (see above).

This year, three new scholarships were presented including the Oil and Gas Week Scholarship; Teck Scholarships in Earth Sciences created by Teck, a Canadian mining company; and the Rees Scholarship in Earth Sciences, created by a relatively recent alumnus.

Dr. Hanchar called on guests and graduating students to continue to help address the growing need for additional support for awards and for program development.

“The financial value of awards presented today is approximately $50,000”, he said. “This is nowhere near the actual cost for a university education for even a single student.

“As you prepare to leave here and to develop your careers, we would like you to think about someday returning the favour and contributing to an Earth Sciences scholarship program,” he added. “Our history is your history. Our future successes are in many ways tied to your future success.”