Students + HGS = Mutual Benefits

HGS provides significant support to students, although this population represents a small percentage, approximately 10%, of HGS members.  For example, the HGS supports graduate geology students through the Warren L. and Florence Calvert Memorial Scholarship, and undergraduate geology majors through the Undergraduate Foundation.  Together, these foundations have distributed scholarships totaling more than $1.3 million to geology students across the United States since inception in 1978 (Calvert Fund) and 1984 (Undergraduate Fund). 
In addition to scholarships, HGS members are actively engaged in supporting students through mentoring and networking.  Some students who become actively engaged with HGS during their academic programs remain connected as they move into the workforce.  Two of those active HGS members and student scholarship recipients are Alexandra Price and Allison Barbato.  Both of these students are scholarship recipients, and both have been actively engaged with the HGS; they exemplify mutual benefits of student-HGS engagement.

Alexandra Price
“I fell in love with geology at 18 years old,” says Alexandra Price, a PhD student at the University of Houston and Business Developer at CGG.  Price says that she initially wanted to be a volcanologist after leaving her home state of Colorado and exploring volcanoes in Costa Rica and Nicaragua.  As a young, single mother, Price says that she was also acutely aware of the need to support her child.  She pivoted from Volcanology and earned an undergraduate degree in Geology from Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado.

After roles in GIS, soil sampling, and wellsite geology, Price moved to Midland, Texas to study at the University of Texas Permian Basin (UTPB).  Price worked as an adjunct professor at UTPB following her master’s degree in 2021.  During this time, Price demonstrated an entrepreneurial mindset by creating an online introductory physical geology course kit complete with lectures, activities, and rock samples.  She successfully worked with a publisher to make the content available to students at UTPB and elsewhere.

In 2022, she moved to Houston to commence a PhD program at University of Houston under the mentorship of Shuhab Khan.  Price began research projects focused on using hyperspectral imaging to determine the concentration of critical minerals such as lithium and rare earth elements contained in pegmatites.  “Hyperspectral imaging can identify minerals more precisely than our eyes; and the spectrum is directly related to the geochemical makeup [in the rock],” says Price.  Price plans to compliment imaging techniques with geochemical analyses.  If imaging techniques are proven to be accurate predictors of elemental composition in the lab, then the technology can be scaled-up to identifying critical minerals at field-scale.  Price aims to complete her PhD in 2026.

Supporting and being supported by HGS
“If you are a geologist, why wouldn’t you be in the HGS?” Price questions.  She says that she learned about the HGS shortly after moving to Houston and taking on a full-time instructional role at Wharton County Community College.  “I got involved with HGS because I thought it would propel my future and I could make great contacts,” says Price. 

Price added HGS volunteering to her list of work, family, and school demands.  “I helped out where I could at HGS events,” she says.  During 2023, Price learned about the Calvert Fund scholarship, and was honored as a 2023 award recipient.
“The HGS does a lot to support students,” says Price.  In her view, students have the responsibility to take advantage of the opportunities that HGS provides, including the opportunities to make industry connections and receive mentoring.  “It’s on the students to make the effort” she says.  

Price says that she successfully leveraged a HGS networking opportunity to recently secure a job in industry.  She volunteered to manage the HGS booth at the 2023 IMAGE conference, which offered an opportunity to interact with other vendors and potential employers.  “HGS is the reason I have a job at CGG,” asserts Price.   In her new role, Price is leveraging her PhD work in critical minerals to support global business development in minerals and mining. 

Price describes that networking is a critical skill for students to learn.  “I walked into the [2022] Christmas party not knowing anyone; but everyone was welcoming and kind,” she says.    While it may be awkward to walk into a room where you don’t know anyone, Price says she has always been welcomed by the HGS. “If you put yourself out there, people will see you are engaged and they will support you,” she says. To those who feel daunted by engaging senior HGS members, Price encourages students and young professionals to “pick the brains of folks who have been doing geology for 50 years.” 

Advice for students and young professionals
Price acknowledges that simultaneously working, going to school, and being a mom to three young children is tough.  Price says that she has lacked a family support system and has made tough choices to meet work demands but believes that the sacrifices are worth the cost.  She describes that she is demonstrating the value of education and hard work for her children.  “There are times you want to give up or that you don’t believe in yourself,” says Price.  “But it has been the people at HGS, CGG, professors and mentors who have re-ignited the spark inside me and reminded me of my value,” she says.  “For that I am grateful”.

Allison Barbato
Allison Barbato, who recently defended her PhD in Geology at Louisiana State University (LSU), says that she grew up in an expatriate Oil and Gas Industry family, and developed a passion for nature and geology while roaming jungles of Indonesia and deserts of Egypt.  “My dad is a petroleum engineer, but he is a geologist at heart,” says Barbato. She recalls family hikes where her father pointed out geologic features. “He would say, ‘this is erosion, kids,’” she laughs.   

Despite the early exposure to geology, Barbato says that she never considered geology to be a viable career path until her sophomore year at LSU.  Then, she took an introductory geology course and met HGS member Jeff Lund.  “Jeff was really influential,” says Barbato, who recalls her surprise that Lund was in the Oil and Gas industry, but also interested in planetary geology.  Barbato declared Geology as her major and completed a bachelor’s degree in studying the geochemistry of Martian sediments in 2018. 

Barbato says that she was interested in pursuing a PhD, but wanted to find the right project that would offer a multidisciplinary course of study and provide transferrable skills.  After taking a year away from school, Barbato returned in 2019 to pursue a PhD studying the hydrocarbon potential of Eocene source rocks in Oregon.  Barbato describes that HGS supported her PhD with mentorship and with financial support, including being awarded the Calvert Memorial Scholarship for the past five years. 

Receiving HGS support and paying it forward
“What I really like about the HGS is that is that is such a welcoming community,” says Barbato.  She continues, “I was fortunate to grow up in an Oil and Gas family, but for many people the industry can be intimidating.  HGS has done a fabulous job of creating a space where anyone can get mentorship.”

Barbato says that Lund continued to be an influential mentor throughout her academic career, encouraging her to develop business skills.  “Developing a business mindset made me think differently and prepared me for leadership roles,” says Barbato.  Other HGS members have been influential for Barbato, too.  She recalls a conversation with Bill DeMis about the costs of ‘green’ energy and says that HGS members offered her an opportunity to have industry-relevant conversations that weren’t happening in academic classes.  Barbato also highlights that she was offered an opportunity to participate on a panel at the 2023 IMAGE conference as a result of the nomination of HGS member Judy Schulenberg.  

Barbato is paying forward the mentorship she received from HGS, by supporting other LSU students. “I have a ton passion for helping students break into the industry,” she says.  Barbato worked to achieve her vision by becoming President of the AAPG student chapter at LSU.  She took on the leadership role in 2020, just as COVID and record low oil prices were sparking mass layoffs of Oil and Gas workers.  “Students lost faith in the industry; COVID took the wind out of the sails,” she says.  However, Barbato also saw an opportunity to invigorate the student chapter.  She launched a social media campaign, began a virtual lecture series, and started financially supporting conference attendance for students. “I want to make people feel comfortable and invest in students the way I was helped,” she says.

Advice for students and young professionals
Barbato advises students to approach conversations with mentors, recruiters and other industry professionals by being curious, asking questions, and being themselves.  She encourages students to avoid the mindset of “this person will give me a job,” and instead focus on building relationships first.

In April 2024, Barbato successfully defended her dissertation, and she is preparing to join Chevron in the summer.  She aims to leverage her technical and business skills to “think and work globally.”  Barbato says the same advice she gives to students she gives to herself. “Show up, learn, be curious and it can’t go wrong,” she smiles.