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Cathy Sliva serves as director of undergraduate advising in the Harold Vance Department of Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M University. | Image: Nancy Luedke

“When I was first thinking of going to college, I had already made up my mind that I was going to Texas A&M University,” said Cathy Sliva ’80. “I loved the spirit and the camaraderie and, even though it was a big university, it didn’t feel big.”

Sliva, an associate professor of engineering practice in the Harold Vance Department of Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M, not only loves the Aggie spirit, she lives it. She teaches, advises, and contributes in many ways to help students currently pursuing a petroleum engineering degree.

Developing that engineering passion

“My father asked me what I was going to study and I said, ‘Well, I don’t know. My favorite things are math and physics,’” said Sliva. “And he said, ‘Maybe you should consider engineering, which is the application of math and physics in solving problems.’ My father was an engineer and luckily he gave me that guidance.”

Sliva was unsure what facet of engineering to pursue and there was no introduction to a major program in the College of Engineering to help her at that time. Her brother suggested petroleum engineering, the same degree he was pursuing, since the department was small and she could easily make friends. Basic classes she took during her first two semesters could transfer to other engineering studies, should she wish to switch majors.

“That very first summer, in my freshman year, I got an internship working in the oil field, had a blast and fell in love with petroleum engineering,” said Sliva.

After graduation, she became a registered professional engineer and had a successful career for 33 years in the petroleum industry. Initially, Sliva worked for four companies in the positions of senior petroleum engineer, director and senior or executive vice president. In 2002, she founded her own company, BlueRock Energy Capital, which won an Aggie 100 Award. She worked as chief executive officer and president there until her retirement in 2013.

“I can’t say anything about success without going back to my family,” said Sliva. “My husband and three kids are all petroleum engineers. It sounds nerdy, but we all love talking about it. A parent doesn’t usually have the kind of relationship that Glenn and I have with our kids. They call for advice and it feels so good to be able to share my professional experience with them.”

Cathy Sliva handing scholarship notice to smiling petroleum female student
Sliva handing out an IADC scholarship to undergraduate petroleum engineering student Lauren Borden. | Image: Nancy Luedke

Heeding the call to serve

In 2012, the university contacted Sliva about becoming a professor of practice. She has served the petroleum engineering department in that role since 2013. Engineering students often gain insight from instructors like Sliva on how what they are learning will be applied in real-world situations, which is why the program is so popular.

In fall 2018, the petroleum department offered her the job of director for the undergraduate program. While she counseled students informally when asked for advice as a professor, this advisor position took her to a new level of service. Sliva, a certified Steven Minister trained to provide care and advice, now uses those skills and others to help petroleum engineering students prepare for the ups and downs of academic life and the futures that await them after they graduate.

“It’s not all fun and games, but I’m where I need to be for both the students and me,” said Sliva. “I’ve always enjoyed working with young people. I think I’ve made a difference in many student’s lives just in the short time I’ve been here. That makes me happy.”

 

seven smiling students gathered around statue of rough neck on Texas A&M campus
First petroleum engineering graduates with Petroleum Ventures Program certificates. | Image: Jan McHarg

In addition to teaching and academic advising within the department, she also directs the Petroleum Ventures Program, which is something she lists as one of her greatest accomplishments. The program, funded by former students Jay Graham and Anthony Bahr, is a collaboration between the petroleum engineering department and the finance department at Mays Business School. It is tailored for undergraduate petroleum engineering and finance students who desire to work in energy finance or petroleum investment management, have the goal to attain senior management at an oil and gas company or create and manage their own energy company.

“We are developing engineers with skills I needed when I started my own company — skills that I needed even before that but had to learn on my own,” said Sliva. “These kids are interested in becoming leaders in our industry. Whether it’s a leader within a company or the leader of their own company, it doesn’t matter.”

Sliva stated that students in the program expand their opportunities for employment because their knowledge base is different than an engineer without a business and finance background. Graduates with a Petroleum Ventures certificate are gaining a reputation within the industry. Other universities are taking notice and calling Sliva for information on how to set up a program of their own.

Working with students continuously reminds Sliva what it was like to start on a path in engineering at Texas A&M. This is why she and her husband Glenn ’81, who is also an associate professor of engineering practice in the department, set up a scholarship to aid students with the cost of an education.

“As an engineer, you fall in love with solving problems, and usually that’s using math and science,” said Sliva. “As a teacher and an advisor, you’re solving problems for human beings. I’m still solving problems. The problems are just different and I’m using different skills. Every day is a fun day because of that.”