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Cover Story

Where are they now?

Written by Mary C. Dillon. Introduction by Olivia H. Miller. Photographs submitted by Featured Alumni and J. Paige Nesbit

The Mountaineer experience is unlike any other. The memories that are formed, the culture and the traditions, all have a unique way of capturing one’s heart. Regardless of where we called home prior to beginning our academic journey at WVU, we leave with a shared passion and loyalty to West Virginia. 


Their individual stories become part of a much larger story. Each success story becomes a source of endless inspiration and provides us with ways to cope with adversity. 

The College strives to prepare our students for success in their professional careers; to contribute to the advancement of society through learning, discovery, extension and service; and to stimulate economic well-being in West Virginia and the world.

We are proud of our graduates and their achievements — big and small.

On the pages that follow, six alumni share where they are now and how they got there, reflecting on both their time at WVU and beyond. 

Michelle Pauli Torres in the lobby of her business.

Michelle Pauli Torres, HFS company owner and CEO. WVU Experience: BSME 1994, ROTC Lieutenant, tennis team, Kappa Delta Sorority Panhellenic Representative, Honors college.

The Payoff of Taking Risks

Engineering and tennis brought Michele (Pauli) Torres to WVU, but it was her five years spent as a member of ROTC that helped shape her professional career.

“In just 15 years, Health Facility Solutions Company has expanded into 23 states, the District of Columbia and internationally to Germany,” said Cumberland, Maryland, native Torres, who graduated in 1994 with a degree in mechanical engineering. “With more than 70 employees, HFS has been awarded 23-plus prime contracts with federal agencies providing worldwide medical and facility architectural, engineering, construction management and facility optimization services.”

Like many Statler College students, a love of math and fixing things led Torres to engineering.

“My father was a machinist and was always working on building or fixing something and I was always eager to watch and help,” Torres said. “My mom suggested that I should be an engineer, and that sounded like a great idea to me.”

A collage of photos showing Michelle during her years at WVU. Skiing, Visiting Windsor Castle, playing tennis, dressed in cap and gown for Commencement, and in fatigues for ROTC

“My parents instilled my work ethic – work hard, get it done and then have fun.”—Michele Pauli Torres

A weekend visit with WVU’s women’s tennis team gave Torres a feel for the school.

“WVU seemed to have a lot to offer, from sports, to social activities, to extracurricular learning. The students on the team didn’t waste any time showing me how awesome WVU is, they all had pride in their school,” Torres recalled. “They cared about each other as part of the team and had the bond of being a WVU student. No other university could compare.”

In addition to tennis and ROTC, Torres lived in the Honors dorm as a freshman, was a four-year member of Kappa Delta Sorority and worked as a ticket taker for concerts at the WVU Coliseum.

“I was not offered a tennis scholarship my freshman year but was hopeful that if I made the team and had a winning record, I would be offered a scholarship my sophomore year,” Torres explained. “ROTC was my backup plan in case my tennis skills weren’t enough to get me the scholarship I needed to continue my education. Although I made the team, an injury made the coach question my ability to continue to be a value to the team in future years and did not offer me a scholarship. God had a plan that turned my backup plan into my ultimate career path.”

“Engineering never seemed to stress her out and she always excelled,” said former roommate and sorority sister Paige Nesbit, who now works in the Statler College. “Back in the early 90s, there weren’t many female engineering students – I personally knew two – but she never seemed to get caught up in that. It always came across to me like, ‘This is my major, I’m going to do the best I can and these guys in my classes are students just like me. We are all on the same playing field. You show up, do your work and then onto the next.’”

“My parents instilled my work ethic – work hard, get it done and then have fun. I didn’t even think about how much time or effort engineering and ROTC would require, I just knew others had done it, and so could I,” Torres said. “I have always enjoyed a challenge, whether a math problem, a tough tennis competitor or balancing a business and a family.”

Upon graduation, Torres served stints with the U.S. Army in Germany, Kentucky and Virginia, all in the area of healthcare facility planning.

“I joined the Medical Service Corps instead of the Engineer Corps in the Army because the environmental engineers fell under the medical folks. Environmental engineering was the ‘hot’ career back then and I wanted to be a part of it,” Torres explained. “Once I entered the Medical Service Corps, I found out they have a group of architects and engineers under the Health Facility Planning Agency that supported the construction and renovation of new Army medical facilities worldwide, and I knew that was where I wanted to be. It is so rewarding to be part of the planning phase of putting the building on paper and then seeing it come out of the ground into reality.”

She served as a health facility planner for nine years in Germany for the Europe Regional Medical Command, on the LaPointe Health/Dental Clinic project in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and at the U.S. Army Health Facility Planning Agency in Falls Church, Virginia. At USAHFPA she assisted with the implementation of the Project Integration Division and earned her certification as a Project Management Professional. In 2001, she received the USAHFPA Commanders Award.

She started HFS in San Antonio, Texas, to provide services to the Assistant Chief of Staff - Facilities, U.S. Army Medical Command. She refined the Army’s medical facility investment strategies to support balanced scorecard initiatives and assist programming requirements for capital investments as part of the major repair and renewal program in support of the Army Medical Department’s $1.4 billion inventory.

“After I left the Army, I still wanted to be part of the team that worked to make the medical facilities the best for our soldiers,” Torres said. “I decided to start my own business and assist on projects as a contractor. It allowed me to use my skills and still be part of a great team, just without the uniform.”

“When she was about to complete her time in the Army, I remember her starting up her company,” Nesbit said. “When she told me, it was so matter-of-fact. To her, it was never a question of can I do this? Most of us would have been thinking ‘I just moved back to the states, almost out of the Army, what’s my next step?’ For Michele there was no question. It was I’m going to start my own company and continue to design medical clinics.”

“With high-profile projects including the transition of the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and the construction of the new Army replacement hospital at Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas, I turned my military experience into a multimillion-dollar business,” said Torres, who went on to earn a master’s degree in construction management at Arizona State University, and stresses the importance of continuing education.

“Continue learning and get credentials as soon as you can. Saying you are a project manager and ‘proving’ you are a project manager with your Project Manager Professional Certification goes a long way with employers,” Torres noted. “Don’t be afraid to try something, even if you are not sure. If you think something might be too hard, do it anyway. The lessons you will learn will take you further than playing it safe.”

Michelle displaying a "Veteran Owned Business" sign.

“If you think something might be too hard, do it anyway. The lessons you will learn will take you further than playing it safe.” —Michele Pauli Torres
Bill Cawthorne and colleagues

Bill Cawthorne, General Motors Senior Manager of Advanced Engineering for Global Transmission and Electrification. WVU Esperience: BSEE, BSCPE 1994, MS 1997, PHD 1999, WVU Foundation Scholar, Honors College, President Electrical and Computer Engineering Student Advisory Board, Teaching Assistant, Crew Chief Formula Lightning Team.

A Lesson in Leadership, Management and Teaching

To say Bill Cawthorne made the most of his time at WVU is an understatement.

In 10 years, the Wellsburg native earned four degrees – two at the undergraduate level in electrical engineering and computer engineering as well as his master’s and doctoral degrees – before heading off to a career with General Motors.

“I knew from middle school that I wanted to be an electrical engineer. I had always been fascinated with electricity, electronics and computers,” Cawthorne said. “I had always been a problem solver and enjoyed puzzles and finding solutions to problems. Electrical engineering seemed the perfect mix of my interests and passions.”

Cawthorne made several visits to the Statler College during high school and when competing during the State Math Field Day. The opportunity to see the research being conducted in the College as well as student-led projects helped seal the deal.

“From those early trips, Morgantown and WVU had a very comfortable and welcoming feel,” Cawthorne said. “I explored other universities, but none quite felt like home as WVU did.”

A WVU Foundation Scholar and Honors College student, Cawthorne quickly immersed himself in college life, serving as president of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Student Advisory Board and as a teaching assistant in what is now known as the Fundamentals of Engineering program for first-year students.

A collage of Bill on various racing teams

“I can trace the origins of my career to my work on the Formula Lightning student project, which is one of the key reasons I am an advocate for student projects.” —Bill Cawthorne

It was his involvement in the Formula Lightning team, however, that heavily influenced his future career.

“This activity was pivotal in my development,” Cawthorne said. “I quickly became the crew chief and program leader. Not only did I gain real-world experience and hone my technical knowledge and skills, but I learned a great deal about leadership, management and teaching.”

The 15-team competition among select engineering programs from across the nation, promoted wheel-to-wheel competition of electric open-wheel formula race cars. According to Roy Nutter, who served as advisor to the team, competitions were held at venues that included Charlotte Motor Speedway, Indianapolis Raceway Park and Richmond Raceway.

“Bill came to me and told me we should get out of the hybrid car competition and get moving on electric car racing,” said Nutter, a professor in the Lane Department of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering. “He was the spark plug that moved that team. He was the money-raiser, he was the student recruiter, he was the technical knowledge behind the development of that car. He was truly the team leader.”

“When Bill finished his undergraduate degrees, I think he could not stand to leave the Formula Electric team and he decided to stay and get a master’s degree,” Nutter continued. “Once he finished that degree, he decided a PhD in electrical engineering sounded like a good idea, and it allowed him to continue to develop the Formula Lightning electric racing vehicle and team. His doctoral thesis had to do with a unique electric motor for possible vehicle use.”

“Dr. Nutter played an important role as a mentor and an advisor to me throughout my 10 years at WVU,” Cawthorne said. “As the advisor to the Formula Lightning team, he provided me not only with technical guidance, but helped me develop into a better leader and helped me learn how to teach other team members.”

Cawthorne’s time spent working on student projects led to a career with GM.

“Allison Transmission, which was a division of GM, was developing hybrid buses and trucks. As part of the Allison recruiting activity, they were looking for new hires with experience in electrified vehicles and focused on the Formula Lightning program for part of the candidate pool,” Cawthorne explained. “In 1998, James Sydenstricker, one of my former students from when I was a teaching assistant, and a longtime Formula Lightning team member, was recruited to Allison. The following year when I graduated with my PhD, I worked with James to get an interview with Allison, and thus began my career with GM.

Bill and the EcoCar 3 team

“I attribute much of our team’s success and rise in ranking over the past five years to the support Bill has provided the team.” —Andrew Nix

Andrew Nix, Gene Cilento, Bill Cawthorne, and President Gee with Bill presenting an oversized check for $20,000 to WVU from General Motors for the EcoCar 3 team.

“So, I can trace the origins of my career to my work on the Formula Lightning student project, which is one of the key reasons I am an advocate for student projects, which includes my involvement and passion for EcoCAR and the WVU EcoCAR team.”

Cawthorne, who currently works in GM’s Propulsion Systems division as a senior manager, served as team mentor to WVU’s entry into GM’s EcoCAR3 competition. The four-year competition challenged teams to transform a 2016 Chevrolet Camaro into an electrified vehicle. WVU finished second overall in the final year of the competition. Cawthorne will reprise his role in the EcoCAR Mobility Challenge, which will feature the 2019 Chevrolet Blazer as the vehicle platform.

“Bill was the perfect mentor for GM to select for WVU in the EcoCAR3 competition. His experience as an undergraduate in the Formula Lightning competition gave him experience in student design competitions,” said Andrew Nix, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and EcoCAR3 team advisor. “His years of experience in vehicle electrification at GM were invaluable to our team in building the hybrid Camaro and in developing vehicle controls.

“As GM mentor, Bill meets weekly with the team leads to help guide us through the GM Vehicle Development Process, which is a process we model in the EcoCAR competition in developing a stock GM vehicle into a hybrid,” Nix explained. “Bill to me is way more than a mentor; he is a critical component to our team and has become a close friend over the past five years. I attribute much of our team’s success and rise in ranking over the past five years to the support Bill has provided the team.”

Frankie Ceglia working on a construction crew.

Frankie Ceglia, Amazon Air Gateway Ops Manager II. WVU Experience: BSIE 2017, Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers Member, Resident Assistant, Society of Hispanic and Professional Engineers, Energy Club, Young Americans for Freedom, Solar Decathlon team Co-Lead, Formula SAE team.

Making the Most of a Hands-on Education

More than 2,400 miles and a bevy of quality engineering schools lie between Valencia, California, and Morgantown. But once Frankie Ceglia decided on engineering, becoming a Mountaineer was second nature.

“When I was in high school, I really enjoyed art and physics. I didn’t really know what engineering was until my junior year when I started to look at colleges,” Ceglia said. “I grew up reading a lot about Nikola Tesla and I thought his work was fascinating. Once I started touring schools and seeing robots, clean rooms and 3D printers, I knew engineering was the right path for me.

“My uncle Jed (DiPaolo), who graduated from WVU in 1976, was the person that convinced me to consider studying engineering my junior year of high school,” Ceglia continued. “When I started looking at schools, I found that WVU’s engineering program was very hands-on. I wasn’t very successful in high school with a very theoretical education so I knew that for me to get through something as difficult as an engineering degree, it would have to be a hands-on one. Once the other school I was deciding between said, ‘You could go here and never pick up a screwdriver until you’re a senior,’ my decision was made.”

Ceglia became the first of what would eventually become the largest number of alumni from Trinity Classical Academy to attend an out-of-state college, all based on recommendations from the Ceglia/DiPaolo family.

A 2017 industrial engineering alum, Ceglia hit the ground running his freshman year, immersing himself in projects like Solar Decathlon, Young Life, fuel cell research and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. He even worked as a camp counselor over the summer at WVU’s Engineering Challenge Camps.

A collage of images of Frankie, playing chess, in front of a monument, with balloons and a model.

“He’s not afraid to put himself out there, and that’s what companies are looking for.” —Jack Byrd

“When I toured WVU, one of the tour guides said something that I didn’t think was that special, until I visited other schools to find out otherwise,” Ceglia said. “The tour guide said, ‘At WVU, as a freshman, you have the option to not only join student orgs and clubs, but you have the option to create one.’ Upon visiting some other schools, I found that the coolest projects were only available to graduate students.”

Ceglia still reaches out to his other mentor, Jack Byrd, professor of industrial and management systems engineering, to discuss “big life” decisions

“He helped me decide on my first job out of college as well as how to maximize my internships prior to graduation.”

“Frankie is high-energy,” said Byrd, who estimates he met with Ceglia four to five times a semester throughout his college career. “He’s not afraid to put himself out there, and that’s what companies are looking for.”

To say Ceglia made the most out of his opportunities at WVU would be an understatement. From internships and co-ops with Ecolab, Fexco and Altec, to being a resident assistant and member of WVU’s Energy Club, Golf Club, Formula SAE team, Young Americans for Freedom and the Blue and Gold Crew, he graduated with quite an extensive resume. It was no surprise when he landed a job with multinational juggernaut Amazon.

“I met recruiters from Amazon at one of WVU’s numerous job fairs,” said Ceglia. “I applied online, and I had to take a test where they looked at what decisions I would make under pressure and how I would overcome adverse situations, as well as my ability to read data and make business decisions from it. Amazon then flew me to Washington, D.C., for six hours of interviews.

“I got my job offer the October prior to graduation, with the stipulation that they would place me at a fulfillment center within one of 38 states, but I wouldn’t know which one until mid-May. Right before graduation, I was told I was going to be launching a new fulfillment center in southern California but first I was going to do a short-term assignment in New Jersey.”

Ceglia quickly moved into the role of continuous improvement/process engineer and was promoted two months later, a mere year from his start date. Three months later, he made the switch to Amazon Air, the company’s newest business segment, where he is building their quality program.

“Our team is designing tools to decrease operational mistakes to promote a faster on-time delivery to customers. I look at systematic ways to increase quality, while increasing productivity,” Ceglia said. “I am currently stationed out of a new fulfillment center located at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California. It’s probably the coolest thing ever to watch 767s and Air Force drones take off and land all day every day.

“I figure in 10 years I will have my own company. I am trying to learn as much as I can about people and project management before going into the abyss.”

Editor’s Note: Before this issue of EngineeringWV was published, Frankie co-founded Engiteq, a growth consulting company headquartered in Morgantown, and is now pursuing a Master’s of Business Administration degree at Pepperdine University.

Bevin holding a child at an orphanage.

Bevin Vangilder, Tengizchevroil FGP Productivity Manager. WVU Experience: BSPE 2003, Society of Petroleum Engineers Officer.

From a Farm in Fairmont to an Oil Field in Kazakhstan

Being a problem-solver came naturally to Fairmont native Bevin VanGilder.

“As a child, you could often find me alongside my dad, tinkering in the garage or on the farm,” said VanGilder. “I loved watching him fix things: his sketches and measurements, the care that he took with his tools and equipment, his ingenuity and his ability to find practical solutions to a problem.

“My mom is an amazing teacher who inspired my love of learning. She is also a fantastic problem-solver, with tremendous organizational and planning capabilities. We joke that our favorite thing to do is make lists! While neither of my parents were engineers, I think my love of problem-solving came from their influence, which naturally led me into engineering.”

An internship at NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation Fairmont facility during high school led her to WVU, where she planned to major in mechanical and aerospace engineering. But a first-year course taught by Shahab Mohaghegh, professor of petroleum and natural gas engineering, and some coaxing by Department Chair Sam Ameri led her to change majors.

“After interning with Chevron as a reservoir engineer in Bakersfield, California, the summer after my sophomore year, I knew I made the right decision,” VanGilder said. “The ability to work on complex problems using state-of-the-art technology with so many opportunities around the world was the perfect fit for me.”

That first internship led to a second and ultimately to a 16-year career with Chevron that has taken her from California to Louisiana to Angola to Kazakhstan.

“In 2012, I accepted my first international assignment based in Malongo, Angola, as the production engineering team lead, where I supervised and mentored our production engineering team,” VanGilder said. “After a stint at Chevron’s headquarters in California working in corporate strategic planning, I moved to Tengizchevroil (a joint venture between Chevron, ExxonMobil, KazMunayGas and LukArco) in Tengiz, Kazakhstan. Since joining TCO, I have worked as the operational excellence/health, environment and safety advisor; the fatality prevention project manager; and now as the Future Growth Project-Wellhead Pressure Management Project productivity manager.”

A collage of photos from Bevin including a professional headshot, on the job, and as a student.

“The best advice I can give students is to be proactive ... seek out additional opportunities.” —Bevin Vangilder

The Tengiz Field is the world’s deepest producing supergiant oil field and the largest single-trap producing reservoir in existence. FGP-WPMP is designed to increase total daily production from the Tengiz reservoir and maximize the ultimate recovery of resources.

“As the productivity manager,” VanGilder said, “my organization’s goal is to make our contractors successful by enabling them to safely execute ‘the right work, at the right moment, the right way.’”

VanGilder is quick to credit her mentors from WVU who have helped shape her career over the years.

“I was lucky enough to have four fantastic mentors: PNGE Department Chair Sam Ameri, Shahab Mohaghegh, Kashy Aminian and Ilkin Bilgesu. I am forever grateful for the guidance and the personal care they showed me,” VanGilder said. “Each brought their own area of expertise and skillsets, and I was able to learn so much from them. Their dedication to their students continues to inspire me and is evident in the caliber of students I meet as I visit WVU as a recruiter for Chevron. It is also an honor to serve on the WVU PNGE Visiting Committee, ensuring that students have the skills needed to be marketable in the industry.”

“I consider it a pleasure to have been able to recruit excellent and talented individuals like Bevin into our department during the time I was representing petroleum engineering in the freshman engineering program,” said Mohaghegh. “She was a great student and ended up being a fantastic engineer for Chevron. This fact did not surprise me at all. This was exactly what I expected from her. I am glad that the people at Chevron were smart enough to realize this fact and take good advantage of her incredible talent and enthusiasm.”

Ameri concurred, noting, “In all of my interactions with Bevin, I observed her integrity, honesty, conscientiousness, high standard of ethics, dedication to hard work, academic excellence, eagerness to learn and tremendous pride in her accomplishments. She was a student that educators like me always remember and hold in the highest regard. She also displayed a sense of humility about herself, and a timely sense of humor that I appreciated tremendously. I knew in those very early years of her education that she was going places, that she would be a future leader of our industry. She has proven me very right.”

“The best advice I can give to students is to be proactive,” VanGilder said. “Your success in your career and in life is your responsibility. To do so requires you to put in the time and effort. Seek out additional opportunities. Get actively involved in student organizations. Begin developing your leadership and communication skills. Seek out internships, especially if they give you field experience. Don’t be afraid to get dirty. Spend as much time as you can out in the field with those that are using the equipment that you will be designing. Show them the utmost respect – they have earned it – and learn as much as you can from them. You will be humbled by their knowledge and be a much better engineer for your time spent with them.”

Kevin Dickey

Kevin Dickey, Quaker Houghton Vice President. WVU Experience: BSME 1994, Society of Mining Engineers President.

Learning from People Around Him

Surrounding himself with people he could learn from started early for Kevin Dickey.

“After retiring from the Air Force, my dad purchased a hotel and bar in his hometown, where miners would gather after work. I grew up hearing about the mining industry,” Dickey said. “I considered going into the Air Force Academy to become a pilot but my eyesight was imperfect, which impeded my acceptance. Taking my dad’s advice, I decided to pursue mining engineering.”

Dickey enrolled at WVU and quickly took advantage of opportunities presented in the Department of Mining Engineering.

“I was very active in the Society of Mining Engineers and took several leadership roles, including the president of SME,” Dickey said. “I always thought this was a way to develop skills that were important in the business world beyond the technical knowledge I was learning in my classes every day. I always found internships and co-ops through the summer, which helped me purchase my first car, as well as my first real estate assets.

“Being a mining engineer, I realized many of the skills I was learning were transferable to other areas/industries, and I leverage these skills to this day.”

After graduating from WVU in 1994, Dickey worked in various underground mining roles at Consol Energy, and then moved into the petroleum industry.

“I wanted an opportunity to grow my real estate business while having more structured work hours. I realized that the petroleum industry wanted mining engineers to help promote their products and technologies into the mining industry,” Dickey said. “It was a great opportunity for me because I stayed in touch with my roots but developed a wealth of knowledge that went beyond what I had been exposed to in my early years as a professional.”

After several years in the petroleum industry, Dickey was approached by Quaker Chemical (now Quaker Houghton), who was looking for someone to develop their global mining industry from the ground up. The position, Dickey said, was attractive because it allowed him to use the skills he developed in both mining and petroleum engineering.

“I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit so the opportunity at Quaker allowed me to be entrepreneurial while working for a global leader in the chemical industry.”

Kevin as a student.

“Being a mining engineer, I realized many of the skills I was learning were transferable to other areas/industries, and I leverage these skills to this day.” —Kevin Dickey

Kevin on the job with a co-worker.

As vice president for global energy with Quaker, Dickey manages the company’s global organization but is also invested in new product development.

“It is very important for our business to stay in tune with the everchanging needs of our customers and the demands for superior products that respond to the challenges they face,” Dickey explained. “These challenges can be operational, or related to health, safety and the environment. My experience working underground left a big mark on me, and I have always been committed to creating products that have mine and miner safety at the forefront. However, as a businessman I understand that in a commodity market it is important for companies to remain profitable, so my job at Quaker is basically to create products that respond to both. I develop our strategy on a global level, develop our product portfolio and lead a highly skilled global team of mining experts.”

Jim Dean, former director of mining and industrial extension at WVU, remembers Dickey as a student, having taught his section of Underground Equipment Selection.

“A lot of Kevin’s mentorship came from Calvin Kidd, who has a long history of working with our students,” Dean said. “Calvin has supported our chapter of SME and made sure that students like Kevin had the opportunity to attend professional meetings. Calvin actually joined Quaker in 2012 as global director of business development for the energy and mining division of the company and reports directly to Kevin.

“Kevin has been incredibly supportive of the Department of Mining Engineering as well as the Department of Mining and Industrial Extension,” Dean continued. “Quaker has made financial contributions to the Center for Mine Training and Energy Technologies, and has assisted us with start-up costs for WVU’s student mine rescue team.”

Dickey credits his professional and personal success to his ability to learn from the people around him.

“Learning from the people around me, whether it be from their accomplishments or mistakes, inspired me to become the person I am today,” Dickey said. “I always advise my children to surround themselves with people they can learn from, and I ask them to be positive members of their community who inspire others. As humans we have a responsibility to help each other constantly improve. Do not be afraid to think about the future and share your life with someone. At the end of the day, family is where I have found my greatest happiness, and you need to invest time into this area to truly understand what fulfillment really means.”

Sandra Gentile in a helicopter.

Sandra Gentile, Hess Ghana Retired Director and General Manager. WVU Experience: BSCE 1981, American Society of Civil Engineers, Kappa Kappa Gamma Sorority.

The Importance of a Good Work Ethic

Working two jobs and being closed out of interview sessions her senior year did not derail Sandra Gentile’s dream of becoming an engineer.

“I knew I always wanted to major in something where I could utilize my math and science skills,” the Morgantown native said. “Engineering seemed like a good option as it would allow me to not only grow my knowledge of math and science but also help me achieve my dream of owning my own construction company.

“My career, however, turned out very different from what I had ever dreamed.”

While construction was not in her future, engineering certainly was. And so was travel.

Sandra in an airport hanger with a plane and a helicopter.

Within two weeks of starting at Texaco she found herself traveling via helicopter to offshore drilling rigs and production platforms, spending about 10 days a month offshore.

Gentile has spent more than 35 years in the petroleum industry, working in more than 20 countries for Texaco and Hess Corporation. Highlights of her career include serving as a key member of the negotiation team with the Ghanaian government to secure a petroleum agreement for the West Keta deep-water license and successfully negotiating a medium-term gas sales contract for select North Sea fields.

“When I was getting ready to graduate, I didn’t have much money, so I planned on working for several years to earn enough money to start my company,” Gentile said. “I had hoped to get a civil engineering position with Texaco; however, all the interview slots were filled.”

While most students might have been deterred, Gentile plowed on, finding out the name and office location of the person from Texaco who would be conducting the interviews.

“I called Texaco’s New Orleans office and asked for Pete Bremer. I explained to him that all the interview slots were full and suggested perhaps we could talk over lunch instead. He agreed to lunch with me, and I was offered a position as a petroleum engineer at a rather generous salary. It was too good to pass up, and I figured it might be interesting to learn a different industry for a few years.

“Several months after I started, I inquired why I was offered a petroleum engineering position versus civil,” Gentile said. “I was told that there was a shortage of petroleum engineers and they found my approach to getting an interview both creative and ambitious. They thought these traits would make me a good candidate to be able to switch engineering disciplines in a timely manner.”

Within two weeks of starting at Texaco, Gentile found herself traveling via helicopter to offshore drilling rigs and production platforms, spending about 10 days a month offshore.

“It was wonderful to actually see the work taking place,” Gentile said. “While in the office I got excellent exposure to the senior engineers and management, which greatly helped me increase my knowledge of the industry. Crude oil is one of the most important commodities in the world, and I enjoyed learning not only the technical aspects of the industry but also the business side, such as what influences oil prices.”

Over the past 16 years, Gentile’s career has taken her from England, to Scotland, to Azerbaijan, to Ghana. That’s quite a lot of travel from a girl who spent the first half of her life on Grant Avenue in Sunnyside.

“My parents were my mentors. My father graduated with a degree in chemistry from WVU and worked as a safety engineer for the Bureau of Mines. My mother raised five kids and always managed to have dinner on the table each night,” Gentile said. “Although I didn’t know it at the time, those family dinners were a good foundation for learning how to share not only food but our thoughts and perspectives on various topics. My parents also highly stressed the importance of having a good work ethic, which I find missing in so many people today.”

A collage of photos including Sandra's student ID from WVU, doing charitable work, at work, and in a few different tourist locations around the world.

“Sandra has a great deal of experience in the oil and gas industry, and she is poised to help us with our teaching in the future.” —Sam Ameri

Gentile stresses that it’s important for students to give some thought to what career success means to them.

“Too often students jump into a job and/or industry that really isn’t the right fit for them. They should first consider what it is that they want out of a career,” Gentile said. “Is a work/life balance important or are you happy to work 10-12-hour days? Do you want to be a technical expert or move into a leadership role? Do you want to work in a team environment or are you more content being an individual contributor? Is working for a major global corporation attractive or would you prefer a smaller company? Do you want to settle down in one location or are they mobile and if you’re mobile, would you consider positions outside of the United States?”

She retired from her position with Hess Corporation in 2016 and is currently working as an adjunct instructor in the Statler College’s Department of Petroleum and Natural Gas Engineering. She was also recently inducted in WVU’s Academy of Civil Engineers.

“Sandra has a great deal of experience in the oil and gas industry, and she is poised to help us with our teaching in the future,” said Sam Ameri, chair of the department.