Kelli Adiaheno always knew she wanted to be an engineer, but an undergraduate course in petroleum engineering at the University of Texas--Austin opened the door to her eventual career path.
After her sophomore year, she interned at an Oklahoma oil field to see firsthand how oil was extracted from the ground. She liked the interdisciplinary nature of petroleum engineering and the opportunities it opens up.
"It involves physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering -- you are not pigeonholed,"" she says.
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Office and research internships followed and today, after earning a bachelor's, master's and doctorate in petroleum engineering from UT--Austin, Adiaheno, 28, focuses on enhanced oil recovery as a reservoir engineer at Shell International E&P in Houston. Her role? Using gas-injection technologies that force gasses into a reservoir to push out untapped oil.
Today, the iconic Hollywood image of gushers is obsolete, according to Jon Olson, chair of the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering at UT--Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering.
"All the easy oil has been found," he said.
Yet, thanks to new engineering approaches, the U.S. has nearly doubled its crude oil production over the past five years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs in petroleum engineering will grow 26 percent over the decade ending in 2022, though that number might have to be revised if lower oil prices last indefinitely and impact hiring.
Still, the industry will always need "people who can create new technology or create new ways to apply existing technology," Olson notes. Besides the type of reservoir engineering that Adiaheno is engaged in, job openings abound in drilling, production, research labs and academia.
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Prospective graduate students potentially enjoy a big advantage: Because universities receive generous support from the industry and the federal government to encourage engineering breakthroughs and more environmentally friendly extraction techniques, most students can expect to get their studies fully underwritten and even receive a stipend. And median salaries in the field are high: about $130,280.
In addition to the petroleum industry, engineers in other fields are also on the rise.
Biomedical engineer ing: These engineers are finding futuristic ways to grow new body parts, create targeted drug therapies and develop individualized drug treatment strategies. This interdisciplinary field combines biological and medical science with mechanical, electronic, chemical and computer engineering.
Jobs are concentrated in universities, hospitals, labs, industry and regulatory agencies. The median salary for the profession is roughly $87,000. The field is expected to see 10-year growth of 27 percent, according to the BLS.
Civil engineer: The people focused on infrastructure are in heavy demand. The government expects to see 20 percent more openings by 2022; median salary now is about $79,000. Civil engineers build roads, bridges and railways; are called in after natural disasters; and are tasked to devise disaster prevention strategies such as equipping skyscrapers to withstand earthquakes.
Concern about aging infrastructure has led some states to increase gas taxes to help fund transportation projects, and Congress passed legislation authorizing $12.3 billion to modernize dams and levees alone in 2014.
Nuclear engineer: Though the industry was hurt by Japan's 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power disaster, the BLS predicts 10-year job growth for nuclear engineers of 9 percent by 2022. Lisa Marshall, director of outreach for the department of nuclear engineering at North Carolina State University, cites a "perfect storm" of variables creating new opportunities.
These include increased federal funding for research and development on advanced reactors, security and nuclear waste disposal as well as the growing interest in applying this technology to other sectors, like medicine and agriculture. Median salary in the field was estimated to be $104,270 in 2012.
This story is excerpted from the U.S. News "Best Graduate Schools 2016" guidebook, which features in-depth articles, rankings and data.