WILLISTON, N.D. - Under the direction of Alexey Kovalev, the Williston State College Petroleum Technology and Automation program is tapping into new possibilities.
From a small suburb outside of Moscow, Russia, Kovalev spent five and a half years in Grand Forks, North Dakota before beginning with WSC in the fall of 2018.
Kovalev attended the University of North Dakota and earned both his Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Petroleum Engineering. Prior to studying and working in the United States, he served as a translator for international oil and gas companies.
"I am excited to be at the heart of the petroleum industry," stated Kovalev. "This is the place to be and the WSC Petroleum program continues to offer a lot of opportunity."
Even with his strong engineering background, Kovalev admits that the automation and technician pieces of WSC's Petroleum program were new to him in the beginning.
"This year has been transformational, in a personal sense adjusting to the area and waiting for my family, and in terms of the teaching process," said Kovalev. "It gave me the time to understand in depth what this program is about and how to teach on a technician level which has a lot to do with down-to-earth applications and what happens at the surface."
Almost since day one, Kovalev met with industry informally and formally to determine what skillsets are needed in technicians.
"I want industry interaction and input and making this program meaningful to the employer and student" stated Kovalev. "Industry partnerships have been key to the program's success and will continue to ensure program relevance."
Luckily, he did not have to maneuver through all of this alone.
Mentorship and friendship came in the form of WSC's Professor of Information Technology (IT), Ken Quamme. His support, knowledge of the petroleum program, and connections helped Kovalev navigate a new institution and program.
Throughout the year, Kovalev and Quamme began the process of cross-walking their programs by incorporating essential IT classes into the petroleum curriculum to meet identified industry needs.
"Industry continues to see a blending between automation and petroleum and some form of automation and IT is in every discipline," explained Quamme.
Gesturing to a programmable logic controller (PLC) behind him, Kovalev added that for example, in order for students to be comfortable with the trainers, they must understand personal computers (PCs) and coding. PLCs control and automate systems and are used in a variety of industries. Out in the oil field, PLC's control liquid and gas levels in oil separators, pressure levels in tanks, and pumping jack speed.
"Students need to be comfortable with PCs in order to wrap their minds around the PLC which is essentially a portable computer," explained Kovalev. "They need to know how to interact with the PLC and understand that what they code into the PLC directly impacts a physical process in the field."
Kovalev and Quamme also identified specific curriculum changes including removing identified redundancy in some classes and channeling students into IT classes first.
"Two years isn't a long time and the amount of knowledge and subject matter is significant," emphasized Kovalev. "Industry wants results and qualified grads that can hit the ground running."
Both instructors agreed students need a strong foundation that includes hands-on and high-tech skills like networking, and project-based learning like internships and co-ops.
In addition to in-house changes, the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant received in the fall of 2018 has opened up new doors for both programs.
WSC's grant is funded by the NSF's Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program, with the goal to promote exemplary improvement in the way technicians are educated and to provide trained technicians.
As a result, WSC will diversity education for its students with professional development opportunities, ensuring equipment is relevant, and consultation from a mentoring institution.
With the grant comes a partnership between WSC and Illinois Valley Community College (IVCC).
"The flexibility of the NSF grant coupled with a resource like IVCC is invaluable," emphasized Kovalev.
Additionally, the WSC Petroleum program will work collaboratively with TrainND Northwest to better align college credit offerings with non-credit training opportunities.
"We are grateful that we have strong support from our alumni and community, and a strong state, but they cannot support us alone," stated Quamme. "We have to continue our progress and demonstrate to industry and the public our commitment to preparing our graduates for the future."
Over the next year, the cross-walking process will continue with additional curriculum changes and incorporating equipment from TrainND Northwest as well as two more trainers purchased through the NSF grant.
When asked what it was like to work together, a WSC veteran of 33 years and new blood, both Kovalev and Quamme knowingly looked at one another and laughed.
"It has been fantastic," said Quamme. "Alex is a lifelong learner and his ability to look at both sides of something resonated with me. Plus, it's exciting to see someone so young and in education wanting change."
Kovalev, ever the engineer, described their relationship as two sets of gears engaging and now working as one.
"We kind of clicked from the beginning," admitted Kovalev.
"I am excited for what is ahead," he continued. "Now, the task is to bring the program up to the level where it caters to identified industry needs and in an efficient time frame. Short-term training is a must for the future."
When asked about his time in Williston, Kovalev reminisced that when he first arrived, Williston reminded him of home. "I like the wilderness part; Williston is not all trimmed and mowed."
Kovalev lives in Williston with his wife and their two children.
For more information on this partnership or the IT and Petroleum programs at WSC, please contact either:
Ken Quamme, Professor of Information Technology at 701.774.4207 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Kovalev, Petroleum Technology & Automation Instructor at 701.774.4285 or email@example.com.
For more information on WSC please visit www.willistonstate.edu, call 701.774.4200, or stop by 1410 University Avenue, Williston, ND.