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Online education at USC leads to opportunities for Venezuelan

Petroleum engineer taps into DEN@Viterbi to access course content and advance his career

Engineer Alejandro Lerza
Chevron engineer Alejandro Lerza plans to complete his online USC education in 18 months. (Photo/courtesy of USC Viterbi)

Venezuela native Alejandro Lerza is one of many with a tale to tell about online education at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

Lerza is a reservoir engineer for Chevron, one of the world’s leading global petroleum companies. He’s spent a significant portion of his time split between a heavy oil expansion project in the Orinoco Belt and an offshore dry gas field project in Trinidad and Tobago.

The projects require frequent travel and come with high expectations to deliver results on time and on budget, especially since South America is a key region for Chevron.

“The industry is undergoing a tremendous effort to assess the potential of these reservoirs, and technical knowledge has been absolutely instrumental in this process,” Lerza said. “Petroleum engineers who pursue education and research have been the engine of growth in our worldwide energy industry, and I knew I wanted to be a part of that innovation.”

With unconventional new projects in mind, Lerza spoke with his manager, who recommended he pursue his master’s in petroleum engineering online. With Chevron sponsoring 75 percent of the tuition, he could continue to work full-time while gaining the technical expertise he needed. Moreover, a distance education degree would accommodate his heavy travel schedule that has him shuffling between Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States.

Live lectures streamed

After extensive research, Lerza applied to DEN@Viterbi, the USC online graduate engineering program. He made his decision to take part in the program because of its stellar reputation and novel technology that offers the same on-campus experience to students around the world.

“DEN@Viterbi is specifically designed so that highly mobile, remote students like Alejandro are set up for success,” said Binh Tran, the program’s executive director. “Students can stream live lectures and even ask real-time questions during class from their computers, tablets or smartphones — whether they’re at home, at work or in an airport lobby. If they’re pressed for time, students can also access all the course content online at their convenience.”

Only a semester into the program, which he plans to finish in just 18 months, Lerza has already bolstered the technical and management skills that will allow him to continue growing within Chevron.

“I love that DEN@Viterbi tests my knowledge by asking very specific questions, by solving detailed problems and allowing students to bring real-world challenges to class. I take these class learnings and apply them the very same day,” he said. “It’s exciting how my education is shaping my career and how it has even allowed me to take a new post as a reservoir engineer for new ventures in Argentina.”

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