The Venango Campus of Clarion University in Oil City, PA, is offering a new degree program to prepare students for careers in the Marcellus Shale and other areas of the natural gas industry.

Through its associate's of applied science degree in industrial technology program the university is offering a concentration in natural gas technology in partnership with Precision Manufacturing Institute (PMI) of Meadville, PA.

"Through our partnership with PMI, students will receive technical training that is relevant for entry-level employment, and a Clarion University associate's degree that will provide the foundation for upward career mobility and/or continued education immediately or in the future," said Christopher Reber, Venango Campus executive dean.

"We worked very closely with leaders in the oil and gas industry to ensure that the curriculum provides students the best foundation for upward mobility in the industry," said William Hallock, chair of the department of applied technology. "Their help was invaluable in creating the best possible program for students interested in getting a quick start on a job with an eye on a future leadership position."

The 19-month natural gas technology associate degree program will prepare students for a wide range of entry-level employment opportunities, the university said. The first offering of the program will begin in early June and will run continually through December.

"While the development of natural gas from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale is in its earliest phase, the demand for a skilled workforce is already expanding rapidly. The growth of the natural gas industry in the area already has created an estimated 88,000 jobs and holds the potential to more than double that number in the next decade," said Danielle Boston, director of public outreach for the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association.

The curriculum is designed to blend general education and business courses with technical courses that familiarize students with the natural gas industry and its processes. Courses will also ensure that students receive in-depth knowledge of critical industrial safety standards and practices related to working in confined spaces with hazardous materials and energy, hazard communication, fire protection and electrical safety, welding, and others, the university said.

Students will learn the theory of maintenance and gain the skills necessary to maintain electrical and mechanical equipment used in industrial settings. Courses will include industrial process control instrumentation concepts, devices, and systems and the basic principles of fluid power, component operation, circuit design and applications. Students will also gain an understanding of programmable logic controllers, engine and compressor operations, as well as issues and applications facing petroleum facilities and networks.

Randy Seitz, CEO of the Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry and Tourism, said he sees the degree program as especially beneficial to the recruitment of new industry.

"Our short-term strategy is to position the Oil Region to be a business-friendly community ready and poised to meet the demands of Marcellus Shale producers and their suppliers," Seitz said. "We will be aggressively going after and recruiting these companies, as well as preparing local businesses to supply to Marcellus Shale gas producers. We are particularly excited because the Clarion University Marcellus Shale academic program will help position us to better recruit these companies and opportunities through a better-educated and more prepared workforce."

Clarion University Venango Campus is the oldest regional campus in Pennsylvania's state system of higher education.