Stimulating. Inspirational. Fantastic. Unforgettable.
Those were the words used to describe the Latin America Region Student Chapter Leadership Summit (LAR-SCLS) held in early November at the Peruvian Geological Society in Lima, Peru.
The action-packed event brought together 45 students representing 20 AAPG student chapters from seven countries, plus representatives from Young Professional (YP) chapters in Colombia and Peru.
Special guests included AAPG President Randi Martinsen, Secretary Richard Ball and Executive Director David Curtiss, each of whom delivered presentations and participated in activities throughout the weekend.
The LAR-SCLS fever began in the wake of the AAPG International Conference and Exhibition (ICE) in Cartagena in 2013, when Chevron sponsored Secretary Ball to lead the event, which was attended by 60 student volunteers.
The AAPG Student Chapter Committee (SCC) recognized a unique opportunity for training students gathered at the event, and they organized a “mini-SCLS,” which included participants from 14 student chapters in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The SCLS Cartagena participants were so inspired by the event that they started planning a larger, region-wide event for 2014. An organizing committee comprising representatives from Colombia, Argentina and Peru met through a series of Skype calls over a 13-month period.
“It was one year of really hard work,” said Diana Ruiz, LAR-SCLS organizing committee member and officer of the EAFIT University Student Chapter in Medellin.
“It was the first time we were planning this type of event, so at the beginning of the process it was challenging to make students and companies trust in what we were and to be motivated. Closer to the event, the challenges were related to finalizing the program and the logistics.”
Ruiz said the organizing committee overcame these challenges through their commitment, persistence and teamwork.
“The biggest advantage is that we knew how to work together as a team,” she said.
The committee chose Lima for the summit for its central geographic location and the competitive hotel and airfare prices, which made lodging and transportation affordable for students.
They scheduled the summit just prior to INGEPET Peru, a large industry conference that drew about 1,300 geoscientists and industry professionals from throughout the region.
The LAR-SCLS was successful in large part because of its comprehensive program, which included a variety of topics and guest speakers.
Flover Rodriguez, education liaison for the Colombia YP chapter, took the lead in organizing the program, which included input from AAPG SCC and AAPG Latin America Region leadership.
“We had a clear objective – to make an impact on the participants and to train leaders,” Rodriguez said. “We thought it was really important to train students through sharing experiences from experienced AAPG members.”
Both senior and recent AAPG members participated throughout the program, which included technical, professional development, leadership and networking components.
Technical lectures began Friday night, when Randi Martinsen gave a talk on unconventional resources and echoed pioneer Walter Pratt’s statement, “Oil is first found in the mind.”
Lectures offered Saturday and Sunday included “Post-Drilling Lessons Learned/Surface Geology for Drilling New Exploration Wells,” by Walther Leon of Repsol Peru, and “The Origin of the Wind River Mountains Wyoming,” by University of Wyoming professor emeritus and AAPG member Jim Steidtmann.
In addition to increasing technical knowledge, LAR-SCLS participants had the opportunity to learn more about AAPG.
Presentations including “Did You Know? AAPG Resources Available to Students” and “Financial Support Committee: How the Latin America Region Allocates Funding to Student Chapters” trained chapter leaders in how to leverage available resources to improve their programs’ success.
David Curtiss provided an overview of AAPG through the presentation “AAPG Continues to Navigate the Global Waters,” and then led a discussion that asked “What new programs should [AAPG] be doing? What should we sunset?”
The two-way conversation provided a unique opportunity for AAPG senior leaders and new members to talk openly about their ideas for making the Association more relevant to current and future generations.
Martinsen said she admired the enthusiasm, energy and talent of the students and YPs present at the summit.
“In addition learning what AAPG can offer students and YPs, I was impressed that the students and YPs wanted to know what they could do for AAPG and how to promote AAPG,” she said.
Professional development sessions provided practical career advice, explained through the personal accounts of AAPG’s global leaders.
The event’s first guest speaker was Richard Ball, who piloted AAPG’s first Global – Student Chapter Leadership Summit in 2007.
Ball’s talk, “How You Will Change the World!” outlined Ball’s experience of getting involved with AAPG and the idea he had to develop student leaders through SCLS events in the United States, then worldwide.
“I never dreamed the event would become so big and that seven years later I’d be in Lima hanging out with all of you,” he told LAR-SCLS participants.
Martinsen shared her experience working in the oil industry through a talk, “Succeeding as a Woman in the Good Old Boys Club.”
Her talk proved to be an inspiration to Pilar Viloria, geology student in her final year of undergraduate studies at the National University of Colombia, Medellín Campus.
“I really identified with (Randi) and how perceptions of gender are changing, thanks to women like her and other geologists and engineers who, through their performance and professionalism, empower young professionals like me to keep changing this paradigm in our own countries,” Viloria said.
Curtiss contributed to the discussion through his presentation that examined “three secrets to a successful career.”
Rodriguez focused on the importance of matching personality types with corresponding leadership positions – and working to ensure continuity from one leadership team to the next – in his talk, “What Makes a Good Organization?”
The presentation was well received, not only by students, but also by AAPG leadership, including Martinsen.
“I was especially impressed with Flover’s presentation dealing with how student chapter and YP chapter officers need to mentor members and work to develop future chapter leaders,” she said. “Without actively recruiting and mentoring those following them in their leadership roles, the chances of continued success for the chapter are diminished.”
The LAR-SCLS leadership sessions involved all Summit participants and focused on the importance of mentoring, teamwork and succession planning.
Initiatives announced during the summit included:
- The Student Leader Mentoring Program, designed to create a region-wide “leaders of leaders” network to provide support to student chapter leaders.
- The Sister Chapter Program, which pairs established student chapters with newer chapters and provides a formal mechanism for sharing lessons learned.
Viloria, of the Universidad Nacional, Medellin Chapter, said she looks forward to sharing ideas with their new sister chapter, University of the West Indies-St. Augustine Campus, of Trinidad and Tobago.
“The principal goal of our chapter during our three years of existence has been to share all our experiences with newborn chapters,” she said. “We think it’s really important to find a way to keep the student chapters active. We try to share the best of our student chapter values and of Colombian culture.
“Lessons learned” was a key component of the Student Chapter Presentations, in which speakers from the 20 universities represented at the summit shared their chapters’ values, activities, challenges and successes.
Creative ideas were another major component. Students from la Universidad de los Andes, of Bogota, Colombia, described their ciclosalida bicycling field trip and “Geosciences in Photos” photography competition. The Caldas University Student Chapter, also Colombia, shared its Rock a’ Thon initiative, which encourages students from throughout the university to bring rock samples to add to their department’s collection.
Other students shared the importance of moving beyond the technical activities and giving back to the community. Members of the AAPG chapter at the Federal University of Sergipe in Brazil described their work teaching basic geology to children, and students at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago discussed their fundraiser to support those affected by autism.
Student presentations highlighted common challenges for AAPG student chapters: finding funding, keeping students engaged and knowing how to deal with criticism from opponents of the energy industry.
They also highlighted common passions – a love for geoscience, for AAPG and for helping others learn about what the Association has to offer students and young professionals.
Raquel Gewehr de Mello, eighth-semester geology student from Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil, said she benefitted greatly from the student chapter presentations.
“Getting to know people who are working with the same issues and are dealing with it in different manners is the best way to learn how to improve and make the chapters stronger,” she said. “One thing I will take back to my chapter is the importance of teaching new members about being a committee member from the beginning. I don’t want to see all the hard work we have done fade away.”
Gewehr added that even new chapters like hers, which formed in 2014, have lessons to teach others.
“We showed others that new chapters are eager to learn how to be an active and strong chapter,” she said, “and we must walk together to be successful.”
LAR-SCLS participants had the chance to meet with Young Professionals at a Meet and Greet reception organized by the Peru YP Chapter.
During the session YP leaders shared their experience moving from academia to industry, and they provided tips to students preparing for graduation.
The rotating small group discussions also allowed YP leaders to hear feedback about what they should be doing to encourage recent graduates to stay involved with AAPG and their YP chapters.
The one-on-one interaction with professionals was meaningful to Marcela Aragão de Carvalho Ramos, an eight-semester geology student at the Federal University of Sergipe.
“I loved getting in touch with professionals, especially because they shared with us their personal experiences and their long path to getting where they are,” she said. “We students were able to discuss everything in a very informal way with them, and for me it was very special since we don’t have this opportunity very often.”
The LAR-SCLS provided plenty of formal and informal networking opportunities, particularly during group meals and coffee breaks, where students celebrated their language and cultural differences as well as their common love for geoscience.
Students from the University of the West Indies-St. Augustine Campus in Trinidad & Tobago provided additional cultural diversity to the Summit, which was attended primarily by individuals from North and South America.
Jenai Valadere, third-year UWI Petroleum Geoscience student, related the unique experience she had representing the only chapter coming from a Caribbean Island.
“We were able to discuss the geology and the culture of our country and answer any questions they had about our island,” Valadere said. “This sparked many engaging conversations among the participants.”
UWI colleague Barry Beckles agreed.
“Our contribution to the other participants came out of our interactions with them,” he said. “They were fascinated by the unique appearance of us, Trinbagonians. They loved our accent; the language is English. In Trinidad, the population is very mixed … over 20 percent of the population identifies as being of mixed ethnicity. So we had to explain how diverse our culture is and the various aspects of it such as food, dress, among other things. Basically we enlightened them on what Trinidad and Tobago had to offer,” he said.
Despite their differences, LAR-SCLS participants united under their common AAPG banner. They developed a theme song, “We’re all part of the AAPG,” sung to the tune of the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” and they talked frequently about their “AAPG family.”
The AAPG family cared for one of its own the second night of the LAR-SCLS, when participants learned that one of the students from Argentina was robbed at the airport and arrived in Lima with no money. Students took up a collection and the multi-currency donations allowed him to enjoy the remainder of his stay in Lima.
The impact of the LAR-SCLS was felt by all who attended.
Rodriguez said he was pleased to see all participants sharing their experiences and ideas for improving their chapters.
“It was inspiring,” he said. “(The students) inspired me to keep working harder. But the most important thing I noted was that they really want to stay involved with AAPG! They were talking about continuing to serve as YPs after graduation! These types of comments make me feel that all our work paid off.”
Melisa Galván, Latin America Region’s student chapter vice liaison, said organizing committee members were overwhelmed by the Summit’s success.
“It was great to see everything come together after all of the effort, desire and energy we invested in moving the event forward,” she said. “We are proud of all that we were able to achieve, and that this experience has been beneficial both to the students and to us.”
Ball, who took vacation time from his company to participate in the Summit, said the experience in Lima further cemented his passion for SCLS events.
“The LAR-SCLS was another example of the incredible enthusiasm AAPG student members possess,” he said. “For the past eight years, I have made it a point to meet with a large percentage of the student membership. I am always amazed by their level of drive and passion for geology.
“One thing is clear,” he continued, “the AAPG has an incredibly energetic student membership base that is ready to accept the challenges that lie ahead for industry. If the group in Lima is any indication, I would say that the future of industry is in good hands.”
Bryant Fulk, AAPG SCC chairman, said he was pleased to hear about the success of the LAR-SCLS in Lima.
“The Student Chapter Committee is encouraged and amazed by student enthusiasm, especially in growing markets like Latin America,” he said. “We look forward to continuing these events and watching former students like Flover take on more leadership roles in the near future within the organization.”
Fulk also noted that SCLS events are possible thanks to support from the Hartman endowment, AAPG and corporate partners worldwide.
“The Student Chapter Committee has experienced unparalleled support from the Executive Committee, both financially and through people (like Richard)’s time, as well as from the Corporate Advisory Board and from individual firms such as Chesapeake Energy. Both the committee and students everywhere greatly appreciate the support,” Ball said.
The LAR-SCLS received a total of $35,250 USD in support from the AAPG Student Chapter Committee, the AAPG Latin America Region, the Asociación Colombiana de Geólogos & Geofísicos del Petróleo, the Geological Society of Trinidad and Tobago, Tecpetrol, Equion Energía, Gems SA and Endeeper.
Organizations and businesses throughout Latin America and the Caribbean will be hearing from students again very soon. All of the 2014 organizing committee members are committed to working on next year’s LAR-SCLS, which they hope to make even larger and more inclusive than the event in Lima.
“Plans for 2015 need to start right away – really, right now!” Galvan said, noting that the committee will need more sponsorships to bring in students from new chapters forming across the region. They also hope to include a YP Leadership Summit in conjunction with the SCLS.
“We all realize that these events are very necessary because they produce an exchange of ideas and experiences that creates a symbiosis between student chapters,” Galvan said. “We also believe that the next SCLS should be done in conjunction with YP chapters so we can ensure a continuity and retention of members, and so our region can continue growing and improving every day.”
Ruiz said the 2014 LAR-SCLS provided a solid stepping-stone to better events in the future.
“We learned a lot of things, and we want to improve,” she said. “We want to get to more students, and we want to have more impact on them and on the region.
“The idea is to work with the YP leaders,” she added, “to show to the students that their work with the AAPG doesn’t end when they graduate.”