Where Leaders Meet Leaders
SEG/Chevron Student Leadership Symposium brings together future leaders from all over the world
by Mick Swiney
"This profession is unique, in that in good times and bad times, there is always that steady pressure to do better," says Tom Smith, Chair of the SEG Foundation Board of Directors, as he addresses a resplendent ballroom filled with 50 hand-picked students representing some of the brightest young minds in the geosciences. "Professionally, I find that very intriguing and wonderful, and I think you will too."
Welcome to the SEG/Chevron Student Leadership Symposium, a two-day program dedicated to giving high-potential students a chance to take a break from science to focus on the core leadership skills that will aid them as they lead organizations, manage multimillion dollar projects, and pitch future-changing business over the course of their future careers as leaders in the oil and gas industries.
"You're leaders already," Mr. Smith continues. "You're leaders today. You are leaders among leaders."
As diverse as the industry they will inherit
The students in this room hail from 25 countries across the globe, all of them are presidents of their SEG Student Chapters back home. Half are male and half are female, some have just begun their schooling while others are preparing to defend their dissertations. What's more, they not only represent a wide range of ethnicities and nationalities, but some even combine multiple origins: there are Russian and Nigerian students representing Saudi schools; Iranian and Bangladeshi students representing North American schools; and Thai and Egyptian students representing European schools – to name but a few.
"This diversity is critical to our industry," explains Steven Shirley, Manager of Earth Science Technical Relations for Chevron, the program's corporate sponsor. "In reality, we're a small industry – much smaller than people think, and getting the right person in a leadership position is critical to executing projects."
And despite concerns among some international students about the mental acrobatics of working in English for two days straight, students like Yaxiang Shu of Chengdu University are thrilled at the international character of the event. "This is my first time in America – actually, being abroad at all," he says. "This opportunity has opened my mind and my vision. I feel like a different man."
"It's really good to know that what we're doing at our school is being done all over the world," adds Elizabeth Madsen of the University of South Carolina. "It makes you feel like you're part of a bigger, better cause."
All that can fit into two days
But despite the diversity of their backgrounds, all the students have one thing in common: they are getting a crash course in everything from presenting to team-building to strategic problem solving. "These accelerated leadership skills are important," Shirley says, because students like these "are moving into the leadership of the oil industry faster than ever before."
‘Accelerated' is certainly the right word to describe the intense two-day symposium. During the weekend students are put to the test in a variety of ways, from presenting the activities and achievements of their Student Chapters to workshopping strategy with senior staff from Chevron and the SEG itself.
Even their lunches are used to the maximum, with Saturday's lunch incorporating addresses from SEG President Don Steeples and Chevron's Liz Schwarze, Division Manager for Exploration and Reservoir Characterization, and Sunday featuring a working lunch while the students hone their team-building skills in close cooperation with Chevron professionals.
"They wanted to listen to us"
"The most exciting event for me was sitting for lunch beside Mr. David Monk, SEG President, and having a conversation about leadership," says Samarth Bachketi of the Indian Institute of Technology. "It was so exciting for me that he was asking me about MY views. I felt so respected!"
"They wanted to listen to us more than have us listen to them," echoes Blaine Bockholt of the University of Memphis. "They asked questions and wanted feedback."
It's no accident. Both Chevron and the SEG itself are keenly aware that these students bring a unique perspective that will help take SEG, and the industry, into the future. In fact, it was their proactive attitudes and innovative ideas that led these students to be chosen from the hundreds of applicants, according to Chevron Senior Geophysicist Paul Vincent, an SEG committee member and ardent champion of the Student Leadership Symposium. "There wasn't a lot of talk about what SEG could do for your chapters, but what your chapters could do themselves," he compliments the young leaders.
Indeed, at many points the weekend seems less about imparting skills to these students than helping them find the abilities within them that they didn't know they had. Consider the example of Guangcai "Teddy" Li, of the Chinese University of the Geosciences: only 15 minutes after admitting to a supportive group of fellow participants that he feels insecure about his English language skills, he suddenly found himself unexpectedly called to the podium to give an entire presentation to the audience in English, earning rounds of applause from the room.
And yet as remarkable as these students are, it is clear that such an amazing experience could never have been possible without the support of the Chevron executives and specialists who have given up a weekend just shy of the Annual Meeting to volunteer for coaching, mentoring, even playing the guinea pig in workshopping scenarios (although judging from the excitement and joy in their faces, most would tell you this is one weekend they wouldn't miss).
"I really enjoyed the talks from the Chevron people, it's really inspiring and enlightening to hear how they manage big groups of professionals in a big structure," says Martin Blouin, Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique, Quebec.
In the end, it is this unique combination of fresh minds and experienced professionals that help make the Student Leadership Symposium exactly what the name would suggest: not merely a seminar or workshop, but a true symposium, where people at various points on the career spectrum come together to help bring about change and growth in SEG and the industry as a whole.
For, as Sultan Safin of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology says, as the exhausting but satisfying weekend draws to a close: "This is an inspiring event that not only changes your mind and the way you think, but also the way you act and interact with people. I think that these kinds of events will make us better leaders, not just tomorrow, but today. Thank you very much Chevron, and thank you very much SEG."