Geosciences students earn second in international contest, bring home Selley Cup

Jesse Westbrook
June 30, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A team of five Penn State geosciences graduate students finished in second place in the international Imperial Barrel Award (IBA) competition, held June 17 and 18 in Calgary, Canada. This is the second year in a row that a Penn State team placed second in the contest, taking home the Selley Cup and $10,000.

The students — Seyi Ajayi, James Neely, Nana Xu, Benjamin Madara and Martin Jimenez — competed against 10 other teams at the international level after winning first place in the Eastern Section of the IBA competition.

Organized by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) and the AAPG Foundation, the IBA program pits more than 100 university teams against each other in a rigorous exercise to assess the petroleum potential of a given geographic basin. Each team is given eight weeks to analyze a provided dataset and then recommend a “drill” or “no drill” plan for future exploration based on prevailing technical and economic conditions.

Working together with their mentors

“Once we got the dataset, which was from Australia’s Copper Basin, we spent a lot of our time working together in the lab to analyze the basin and then shape our presentation,” said Neely.

Each team in the IBA competition is allowed to work with two industry mentors. Penn State’s team worked with two geosciences alumni: Rick Abegg, who graduated with a bachelor of science degree in earth science in 1983 and now works at Chevron as a program characterization and definition team lead, and Tony Riccardi, who graduated with a doctorate in geosciences in 2007 and now works as a geologist for British Petroleum.

“Rick and Tony volunteered so much of their time to help us clarify our presentation and solidify our argument,” said Neely. “The feedback they gave us was very beneficial.”

The team also received guidance from its faculty mentor, Liz Hajek, assistant professor of geosciences at Penn State, who participated in the competition when she was a graduate student at the University of Wyoming.

“Liz is basically our coach,” said Ajayi. “She knows what it takes to be successful in this competition, and she helped provide guidance to our approach to the dataset analysis and presentation.”

Presenting to a panel of industry leaders

At both the regional and international competitions, the IBA competitors give a 25-minute presentation to a panel of high-level industry executives from companies like Shell, Chevron and Schlumberger.

“The key to the competition is taking all of the technical information that we’ve gathered and communicating it in a concise manner that everyone can understand,” Neely said. “I was very excited to know we had done it well enough to earn second place.”

“I was very happy with the award. It was a great accomplishment considering how competitive the competition is,” said Ajayi.

Career-shaping experience

For many students, the IBA program offers insight into real-world applications in the field of geology.

“The IBA contest taught me the skills necessary to be successful in the oil and gas industry,” said Neely, “and I’m thankful to have that knowledge now.”

For Ajayi, the program got him one step closer to a potential career.

“The experience was incredible for me because I was exposed to what petroleum geologists actually do on a daily basis,” Ajayi said, “and it solidified my interest in working in the oil industry in the future.”

  • Imperial Barrel Award Selley Cup

    Close-up of the Imperial Barrel Award's Selley Cup. For the second year in a row, Penn State students brought home this prize and $10,000 for placing second in the Imperial Barrel Award competition.

    IMAGE: Liz Hajek / Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated June 30, 2016