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Good Timing: First USC “Smart Oil Field Technology” Engineers Receive Degrees Friday

"This was the right degree at the right time"

May 10, 2006 —
Smart Oil Schematic from lecture by Dr. Iraj Ershaghi on the subject. Click on the image to view the lecture.
In 2003 when the Viterbi School of Engineering established a degree program in advanced methods to use information technology to get more oil out of wells, the price of  oil  was less than  $30 a barrel.

With oil prices lodged over $70 a barrel, the first degrees in the SOFT (Smart Oil Field Technology) program was awarded Friday to five students, one of whom reduced his commuting costs to zero by earning his credential online through the USC Distance Education Network. (DEN). The credential is unique to USC, based on material to a large extent developed at the school.

“This was the right degree at the right time,” said Viterbi School dean Yannis Yortsos. “We are proud that we made a decision then that puts us in a position to make a positive contribution to the energy issue now.”

Ray Ambrose, the DEN studen drove down from Bakersfield Friday with his entire extended family to receive his diploma in person. Now, it will be back to bringing more oil out of the ground in his job as an Occidental Petroleum senior reservoir engineer in the Elk Hill field, aided by new methods he’s learned in more than two years of study over the Internet.

Professor Iraj Ershaghi of the Viterbi School Petroleum Engineering Program created the program after years of research in the subject. Conventional oil recovery programs, he noted in an op-ed piece May 2, 2004 in the Los Angeles Times, often leave more than half the oil in an underground field. He believes that new technologies can drastically improve this. “In our current climate we must do better, and I believe these methods will increasingly enable it.”

In 2003, his longtime research on ways to use information technology to (among other things) accurately map oil deposits in three dimensions received a major boost when Chevron agreed to partner with USC to create the Center for Interactive Smart Oilfield Technologies (CiSOFT).  

In addition to an ambitious research program, CiSoft also established an educational component, creating a set of new courses

Ray Ambrose earned an MS in the new SOFT option via DEN, and carried the Viterbi School banner in the commencement May 12.
and, after approval from USC, a new MS degree certificate, the one that Ambrose, Nelia Jafroodi, Golnaz Alipour Kivi, Reza Rastegar Moghadam Moadab, and Ehsan Tajer  received May 12, in Archimedes Plaza on the USC University Park campus.

Required courses have  titles like  “Intelligent and Collaborative Oilfield Systems Characterization and Management,” “Smart Completions, Oilfield Sensors and Sensor Technology,” and “Smart Oilfield Data Mining.”

Ambrose served as flag-bearer, according to graduate dean Margie Berti, as a tribute to the time and effort he invested and his perseverance in pioneering an untested new degree program, entirely over the Internet.

Ambrose, who earned an undergraduate degree at USC in chemical engineering in 1995, will be glad to be back, along with “my wife Dawn, and son Joseph (he is 6), my parents Dennis and Cecelia, and my sister Rhonda and her family, and my wife's parents and grandparents."
 Ambrose is one of 210 students who will earn a MS through DEN, the largest advanced degree distance learning program in engineering.