Cockrell School of Engineering
The University of Texas at Austin


UT PGE students swept the 2018 Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) Southwest Regional Paper Contest. The competition, held at Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge on Feb 22, hosted 13 undergraduate and graduate students in the Southwest region.

Paper contest participants presented their innovative findings from a research project or internship to judges, who are experts in the oil and gas field. The students were critiqued on the following three areas: subject matter, delivery and clarity of communication.

In addition to placing in the top spot in all three divisions (B.S., M.S. and Ph.D.), UT PGE students also placed second in two divisions:

B.S. Division

  • 1st – Jack Trueblood (only first place was awarded)

M.S. Division

  • 1st – Jenny Ryu
  • 2nd – Yusuf Nasir

Ph.D. Division

  • 1st – Mahmoud Shakiba  
  • 2nd – Mohsen Babazadeh

The top place finishers in each category will travel to Dallas, Texas this Sept. 24-26 to compete in the international paper contest at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE). UT PGE students will go up against the impressive qualifiers from the other 14 regional divisions. This is the seventh consecutive year at least one UT PGE student won the regional competition and went to the international contest.

UT PGE students also participated in the regional PetroBowl – a fast-paced quiz competition. The team placed third, qualifying them for SPE ATCE, where they will go head-to-head against schools from around the globe.


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The Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) is awarding five UT PGE professors with six SPE International awards – the most of any year in department history. Professor Mukul Sharma won the John Franklin Carll award, which recognizes distinguished contributions in the application of engineering principles to petroleum development and recovery.

Associate professor Quoc Nguyen is taking home two awards. The Lester C Uren award, which recognizes engineers under 45 who have made a significant impact on the technology of petroleum engineering, and the Distinguished Member award, which acknowledges members who have attained eminence in the petroleum industry or the academic community, or who have made significant contributions to SPE.

Professor Eric van Oort won the Drilling Engineering award for his outstanding achievement and contributions to the advancement of petroleum engineering in the area of drilling. Assistant professor Zoya Heidari, and her former graduate student, received The Cedric K. Ferguson Medal for the best SPE paper among members younger than 36. Associate professor Matt Balhoff also earned the Distinguished Member award.

The faculty will receive the awards during SPE’s Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition (ATCE), Oct. 9-11, in San Antonio.

Established in 1957, the Distinguished Engineering Graduate Award is the highest honor that the Cockrell School bestows on its alumni. The five distinguished engineering graduates for 2017 are innovators, entrepreneurs and highly respected leaders in their industries and communities. UT PGE graduate Eugene Shepherd is included in this year's class of honorees.

Eugene B. Shepherd

Gene Shepherd

B.S. PE 1981
Chief Executive Officer, ATX Energy Partners 

Gene Shepherd is a founder and the chief executive officer of ATX Energy Partners LLC. Prior to that, Shepherd was a founder and chief executive officer of Brigham Resources LLC from 2013 until its sale to Diamondback Energy Inc. in early 2017.  

Shepherd earned his bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering in 1981 and his MBA in 1986, both from The University of Texas at Austin.

Shepherd had 20 years of financial and operational experience in the energy industry before serving as chief financial officer of Brigham Exploration from 2002 until its sale to Norway-based Statoil ASA in 2011. Earlier in his career, he served as integrated energy managing director for the investment banking division of ABN AMRO Bank, where he executed merger and acquisition advisory services and capital markets transactions for energy companies. He had a similar focus in his role at Prudential Securities Incorporated, Stephens Inc. and Merrill Lynch Capital Markets. Prior to his stint in the financial services industry, he worked for more than four years as a petroleum engineer for Amoco Production Company and the Railroad Commission of Texas.

Shepherd received the 2016 Adam-Houston Energy Network M&A Dealmaker of the Year award for the sale of Brigham Resources’ southern Delaware Basin assets to Diamondback Energy. In 2017, Shepherd was awarded the Silver Beaver award by the Boy Scouts of America for distinguished service to youth.

Shepherd is active in his church and community. He is a member of the Engineering Advisory Board of the Cockrell School of Engineering and has served on various nonprofit boards, including KIPP Austin Public Schools, the Capital Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America and Trinity Center. 

Shepherd lives in Austin with his wife, Robin, and their three sons, Trey, Sam and Ben.