Logo: University of Southern California

Online Education Opens New Opportunities for Venezuelan Engineer

Petroleum Engineer Taps DEN@Viterbi To Access New Reserves
By: Derek Lazo
July 21, 2014 —

Born in Valencia, Venezuela, Alejandro Lerza is a reservoir engineer for Chevron, one of the leading global petroleum companies. He’s spent a significant portion of his time split between a heavy oil expansion project in the Orinoco Belt and an offshore dry gas field project in Trinidad and Tobago. The projects require frequent travel and come with high expectations to deliver world-class results on time and on budget, especially since South America is a key region for Chevron. Heavy oil development changed the world the same way that unconventional resources are beginning to change it today, providing additional energy resources and improving many countries’ economies, but there are still many unknowns to overcome.

“The industry is undergoing a tremendous effort to assess the potential of these reservoirs and technical knowledge has been absolutely instrumental in this process,” said Lerza. “Petroleum engineers who pursue education and research have been the engine of growth in our worldwide energy industry, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that innovation.”

With these unconventional new projects in mind, Lerza spoke with his manager, who recommended he pursue his master’s in petroleum engineering online. Plus, with Chevron sponsoring 75 percent of the tuition, he could continue to work full-time while gaining the technical expertise he needed. Moreover, a distance education degree would accommodate his heavy travel schedule that has him shuffling between Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States.

After much research, Lerza applied to DEN@Viterbi, the University of Southern California’s leading online graduate engineering program. He made his decision to attend DEN@Viterbi because of the program’s outstanding reputation and state-of-the-art technology that offers the same on-campus experience to remote students – access to petroleum experts and faculty, a high-academic rigor and the technical courses that would allow him to be more effective on unconventional reservoir projects.

“DEN@Viterbi is specifically designed so that highly mobile, remote students like Alejandro are set up for success,” said Binh Tran, DEN@Viterbi’s executive director. “Students can stream live lectures and even ask real-time questions during class from their computers, tablets or smartphones – whether they’re at home, at work, or in an airport lobby. If they’re pressed for time, students can also access all the course content online at their convenience.”

Only a semester into the program, which he plans to finish in just one and a half years, Lerza has already strengthened the technical and management skills that will allow him to continue growing within Chevron. “I love that DEN@Viterbi tests my knowledge by asking very specific questions, by solving detailed problems and allowing students to bring real-world challenges to class. I take these class learnings and apply them the very same day,” said Lerza. “It’s exciting how my education is shaping my career and how it has even allowed me to take a new post as a reservoir engineer for unconventional new ventures in Argentina.”

From his first experience with petroleum engineering in ninth grade at the National Petroleum Olympics, to working on industry-leading projects at Chevron, Lerza has fallen in love with petroleum engineering and with his company.