For the first few years of her career, Lucy Pettitt-Schieber was one of only several women – and the sole female engineer – working and living on one of the oil rigs operated by BP in the Gulf of Mexico.
After earning her BS from Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE) in December 2012, she started as a well intervention engineer with BP the following year, executing operations on the rig to help fix issues with any of the wells in the Gulf of Mexico.
“I had a great experience. Everyone looked out for me as a junior engineer. They knew I was there to learn. While I didn’t have a whole lot in common with the other rig crew, I grew up playing sports, so I could relate to people on that level.”
She adds: “Living on the rig two weeks on, two weeks off was important to understand all of the equipment involved as well as the lifestyle and the vocabulary. Everybody has a different word for every piece of kit on the rig. By the time you get back in the office, you’re ready to write the procedures you learned to execute out there.”
In early 2018, Pettitt-Schieber moved into a new role as a well integrity engineer in order to diversify her experience and gain a more holistic view of the business. She is responsible for two of BP’s four main Gulf assets, which combined produce more than 250,000 barrels of oil a day. Leading efforts to ensure that all equipment is operating reliably and following regulatory rules, she periodically visits the platforms via helicopter from Houston, Texas, where she works and resides.
Eventually, she’d like to rise into an engineering team lead role at the company. “I find that I really enjoy when I have the opportunity to develop others, so management is something I’d like to move into at some point.”
Recruiting Tech Students
Since joining BP, she’s dedicated herself to recruiting more Georgia Tech grads to join the company. “When I first started, I didn’t see enough Tech people and said, ‘This has got to change.’”
Now the team lead for recruiting at ChBE, Pettitt-Schieber says, “I may be biased, but I’ve been to other campuses and believe the caliber of Tech students is head and shoulders above the rest. Our industry needs continued innovation, modernization, and improved efficiencies – things every Tech student can do.”
During high school, a high school chemistry teacher told her that she might make a good chemical engineer, so when enrolling at Tech, she explains, “I checked that box and just kept going with it.”
Even though she’d grown up in Stone Mountain, Georgia, she hadn’t visited the campus until she began considering schools. “Once you see it, you know it’s an amazing place. It was great seeing a lot of people like me – nerdy, really passionate about science and technology, but maybe not the popular kids in high school. But having a lot of us together was somehow super cool.”
“I saw people like me that I could fit in with and have quirky conversations,” says Pettitt-Schieber, who satisfied her athletic side as a member of the Georgia Tech Crew rowing team during her first two years.
She participated in Tech’s Co-op program working for ExxonMobil as a contact engineer and process designer engineer for a refinery in Baytown, Texas, and then as a global improvement engineer in Houston (a total of three semesters for the company).
“These opportunities helped me see how oil and gas really permeate everything we have and do,” she says. “All the raw goods that come from oil and gas make it to consumer shelves somehow. If you look around and see something that doesn’t look like metal or glass, it probably came from oil and gas.”
While her experience at ExxonMobil had centered on the “downstream” refining processes, she jumped at an opportunity to move into the “upstream” side of getting oil out of the ground at BP after graduation. “It’s not always easy to make that transition. But what got me interested is the new technology that’s always being advanced in upstream as well as the magnitude of the projects.”
Pettitt-Schieber’s passion for science and technology took her from a chemistry classroom to Tech and on to the oilfield, but she still looks back from time to time. Returning to campus a few times a year for recruiting, she notes, “There’s always a new building somewhere! I’m always in awe of how Tech and its students continue to push the boundaries to move our world forward, and it’s exciting to see that the next big thing could come from the Institute.”