petrol class 2020

Students (left to right) Spencer Cook, Anthony Jafolla, and Grant Gathman look at a Bakken core sample with their teacher Gerald McGillivray.

There’s been a lot of talk about how the state needs to expose its youth to the many job opportunities in the oilfield. But not so many programs that actually take a deep dive into that.

Williston High School, however, is pioneering a careers academy that does just that. Now in its second year, the new program, led by petroleum geologist Gerald McGillivray, has hosted more than 100 students so far — and quickly growing.

“This has actually taken off faster than I thought it would,” McGillivray said. “I get a lot of input from parents and school counselors, and they are recommending that the kids take these classes.”

And it’s not just boys taking the class either. McGillivray is seeing more and more girls sign up.

“I’m telling the young ladies there are so many careers they can do,” McGillivray said. “A lot of people think the only things in the oilfield are outside rig jobs, but there are a lot of different things they can do. There are a lot of engineers, a lot of tech positions.”

McGillivray has also gotten a lot of industry interest, including a $2,500 grant from Continental Resources Funding the Future grant program, as well as offers to provide interesting field trips, job shadowing opportunities, and more.

McGillivray has a lot of exciting plans for the future, but in the here and now, he likes to start everything off with a simple assignment, one that literally brings the oilfield home to his students.

He has each student talk to someone they know in the oilfield, to find out in detail what it is that that person does. The students then bring back what they learned, to share with the class as a whole.

Many of the students have immediate family members who work in the industry. But even they are surprised by what they learn, and by the broad range of careers the industry offers.

Cross Russell, for example, has a brother and stepdad in the industry. He’s not sure he’ll work in the oilfield long-term, but thought he might do so at least for a time to get money for college.

He took the class to learn more about what his many options might be.

“There are lots of jobs within the oilfield that I do not know of, I knew that,” he said. “This (class) is helping me understand the bigger picture. About what the oilfield actually is, compared to what I thought it was.”

Jacob Thomasson, meanwhile, is planning a summer internship with an oilfield company in the region, and said he took the class because of his Uncle.

“My uncle said there are lots of possibilities in the oilfield, that it’s not all big, hard muscle stuff,” he said. “Some of it is money management, resource management, transportation — and they are the part of the oilfield I’m into.”

Thomasson is also interested in the environment, and McGillivray said there are hundreds of jobs in the oilfield that relate to that interest.

“We are always looking at the job opportunities (that go with their interests),” McGillivray said.

Thomasson, too, is unsure he would call the oilfield home for a long-term career. He hopes to earn money to go to veterinary school.

“Right now, I’m thinking the oilfield is my backup,” he said. “It’s something I can get into as long as I’m willing to put forth the effort.”

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