This isn’t Texas, but Illinois State’s hydrogeology master’s program still provides graduates with a unique skill set that helps them stand out in oil and gas jobs, according to several alumni.

Grad student Stephen Flaherty spent last summer interning with Apache Corporation in Oklahoma. He searched for oil in his large study area using massive amounts of data and powerful computers, alongside other geologists, engineers, drillers and land men. Flaherty also coordinated efforts to determine if a well would make money for the company and presented potential drilling locations and finances to regional executives.

So while underground water is at the core of Illinois State’s program, there’s overlap between hydrogeology and petroleum geology.

“Hydrogeologists can become great petroleum geologists partly because they have an understanding of how fluids are moved and stored underground,” Flaherty said.

Flaherty long dreamed of being a geologist and wanted to do environmental work until he started on his master’s thesis, a geologic mapping project in Illinois. That exposed him to some of what petroleum geologists do—making maps and models, drilling holes, analyzing data, creating a geologic story. Plus, the booming oil and gas industry is hiring lots of geologists.

“I especially enjoy building geologic models, and that is part of the search for oil,” Flaherty said.

Illinois State’s geology program graduates around eight master’s and 20 bachelor’s students every year. It also offers some eye-opening field trips, including one to the Permian Basin in West Texas, an iconic geologic field where many major oil companies send their new hires for training.

Erin Roche and Drew Carlock, both 2009 master’s graduates, said their unique backgrounds in hydrogeology helped give them a leg up when they got hired by ExxonMobil and BHP Billiton, respectively, and as they’ve worked on exploration and production teams ever since.

Illinois State also gave students access to Petrel, a very expensive geologic software program that Roche and Carlock used for their theses and now “every single day” on the job.

“It’s the first thing we open, other than Outlook, every morning,” Roche said.

Board of Trustees member Jay Bergman ’70 is president and CEO of Petco Petroleum Corporation, a mid-level independent oil and gas producer with fields all over the U.S. He employs around 225 employees, including two geologists he hired right out of Illinois State.

“They’re trained very well,” Bergman said.