Aera Energy’s investment in the four-year course of study has paid off with well-paying jobs for graduates, a stable workforce for Kern County employers.
Nine years after receiving a $500,000 endowment from Aera Energy, a four-year program at California State University-Bakersfield (CSUB) is proving its worth to graduates, local employers and the community.
The Environmental Resource Management (ERM) program in the university’s School of Business and Public Administration has placed dozens of students in internships and career positions at several Kern County companies. Amazon, The Wonderful Company, Chevron, KSI, Granite Construction, PG&E, Weatherford and Aera are among employers who have hired ERM students and graduates.
“The biggest impact of this program is the well-paying jobs for our graduates,” said Dr. Aaron Hegde, director of the ERM program since 2004 and chair of CSUB’s Economics Department. “We give them an education that, in many cases, transforms lives.”
Aera’s 2010 endowment established the Aera Energy Occupational Safety and Health Concentration in the ERM program. In all, more than two-thirds of the 150 students who have graduated from the ERM program have done so with an Aera OSHM concentration. Among them are Joseph Cobb, Jevan Lane, Brian Lane, Elizabeth Hollman and Taylor Unruh – all now Aera employees. Sabrina Delgado, a student in the ERM program, is interning at Aera this year.
Inside the program
This year, CSUB counts 62 students who are majoring in the ERM program, which delivers a bachelor of science degree.
Hegde describes the program as “a bridge between environmental science and management.” Students take courses in physical and life sciences, economics, policy analysis, management, and law and compliance. Hegde also brings in industry speakers to ensure students hear about hands-on experience as well as theory.
The degree requires students to complete a four-course concentration. If they choose the Aera OSHM concentration, they take two sections on OSHA safety fundamentals and a course on industrial hygiene. Aera’s Joe Bariffi, who was instrumental in designing the Aera OSHM course of study, teaches the hazardous-materials course every other year. This year, 45 of the ERM program’s 62 students are enrolled in the Aera OHSM concentration.
Paving the way for a successful program
Bariffi graduated from CSUB in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree in petroleum land studies, the predecessor to the school’s ERM program. While he appreciated its career value, he, like Hegde, realized the university’s program needed to grow.
“We recognized that CSUB could not only provide an education for local, qualified health and safety professionals but help build a stable workforce that would remain in the community,” said Bariffi, manager of process assurance, response and learning for Aera.
By 2008, Hegde, Bariffi and an advisory committee of industry safety professionals were developing a broader curriculum and list of instructors. They all saw the need to train students for work in the region’s growing environmental health and safety field.
They sought support from the American Society of Safety Professionals and WorkForce Staffing, an employment agency that specializes in oil industry jobs. The two organizations soon stepped up with $50,000. That was followed by Aera’s $500,000 donation in 2010 and a $300,000 contribution from area oil and gas companies, including Golden State Drilling and The Industrial Company.
That investment not only created the Aera OSHM concentration but energized the ERM program, which has continued to gain ground.
“Our program keeps the very talented students from leaving this area, whether it’s for education or career,” said Hegde. “We’ve placed a lot of students in positions where they’re earning salaries much higher than the typical four-year graduate.
“Local employers are realizing our program’s pool of qualified people is no longer an afterthought but a first thought,” he added. “None of this would be possible without the generous support of companies like Aera.”