By Mike Killalea, editor & publisher
“I never knew my Barbie came from petroleum,” the little girl wrote in amazed wonder. Likewise, the little boy was astonished to learn the hydrocarbonic origins of his Shrek toothbrush. These kids came by such startling revelations not through Facebook, MySpace or TV.
No, this entree to a world unknown arrived courtesy of Houston-based Offshore Energy Center’s itinerant MOLU education project. The Mobile Offshore Learning Unit comprises 6 individual learning stations totaling 24 activities, where schoolchildren enjoy hands-on opportunities to explore the world of energy. (Nearly all the subject matter is just as relevant to onshore as offshore.)
Exercises walk the 10- to 18-year-old students through energy jargon, engineering, seismology, bits, distillation and more. Activities are crafted by OEC staff, led by education director Doris Tomas, to mesh with curriculum requirements. For example, students must use a microscope and magnifying glass. Student examination of microfossils satisfies the microscope requirement. By checking out core samples, magnifier-wielding kids cross off that must-do activity. The kid’s enthusiasm brings smiles to weary teachers.
OECs MOLUs kicked off in 2008, and the pace has stepped up sharply. In the first quarter of 2011 alone, this novel learning tool visited 28 schools across Texas, touching the lives of more than 4,000 students. That’s nearly half the number for all 2010.
In the interests of complete disclosure, I serve on the OEC Educational Outreach Advisory Board, and thus am a MOLU partisan looking to win converts.
The MOLU can use a few more partisans, because these educational forays aren’t free. Each visit costs nearly $1,500 – and that’s in and around Houston. Fortunately, OEC has enjoyed generous patronage. Of the 28 most recent visits, Hess funded all or part of 3, as well as for 9 future visits. Another 8 were fully funded by a grant from Halliburton, and the Foundation for Energy Education paid for a whopping 14 visits. The foundation has committed to future weeklong trips to San Antonio and Tyler/Longview, as well as Abilene and Wichita Falls/Graham this autumn. Pride International is sponsoring 5 Houston-area visits this year.
A second MOLU would reach even more kids. OEC has this on its radar and needs financial assistance. The first MOLU cost $1.2 million, divided among 6 sponsors – Devon Energy, Dominion, ExxonMobil, Halliburton, Marathon and Schlumberger. Companies may pay their $200,000 share over 5 years. Schlumberger has already committed to MOLU number 2. Who’s next?
It may sound like quite a sum for a modest-size road show. But the price tag includes marketing, advertising, staff costs and so on. OEC staff exhibit the MOLU at every opportunity, particularly those that attract teachers. “We take it to 10 or 12 exhibitions every year,” noted OEC director Sandra Mourton. But the MOLU can’t be two places at once. So, attending an exhibition takes the MOLU out of play for kids. (And play it is. “I like the robotic arm!” exulted one young lad.)
To see the MOLU in action, check out some web videos. Go to drilling
contractor.org or youtube.com and search for “OEC MOLUs bring offshore to Jane Long Elementary.” Also, you can click on a couple others – created onsite by enthusiastic teachers – by visiting OEC’s Facebook site. (Be sure to search for “Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig Museum and Education Center” in FB.)
Survey after survey reveals with depressing regularity omnipresent public suspicion and mistrust for our industry. OEC’s MOLU can help, but only with industry support. There are no government grants for this good work.
And the MOLU does work. It is a truism that we forget almost everything we hear and much of what we see, but we remember almost everything we’ve done. With the MOLU, kids remember a lot. When I watch a MOLU session, my gratification is immediate. But the industry’s ultimate reward is long term – and long lasting.