Shell BOOST Program


Breaking rules to give M.Eng. students valuable experiences

The M.Eng. program at Cornell’s Robert Frederick Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (CBE) has teamed up with the Shell Oil Company to offer CBE M.Eng. students and seniors a unique opportunity to experience what it might be like to work on an offshore oil and gas production platform. Shell’s training facility in the town of Robert, Louisiana hosts their Basic Offshore Operations Simulator Training Program (BOOST) and in 2016 three different groups of Cornell CBE students participated in training sessions there. The simulators at the Shell training facility are fitted out with the same types of production equipment and handle the same types of fluids that employees on an actual offshore facility would encounter.

Mark Hurwitz, Adjunct Professor in the Robert F. Smith School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, has created a for-credit course centered on a working visit to the facility. The course includes pre-visit lectures on separation system design and performance, drafting a test run protocol, and a post-visit group report that documents the students’ assessments of the system’s performance. Hurwitz travels with the students in the role of group advisor during visits to the facility.

The initial group visit in January was led by Mark Hurwitz and Al Center, Professor of Practice and Associate Director of the Masters of Engineering Program at the Smith School. Since then Hurwitz has led the program with ten students attending during Spring Break at the end of March; and another twelve a few weeks ago during Fall Break. 

It would be very difficult, if not impossible, for students to get on an actual offshore production facility in the Gulf of Mexico or elsewhere, so the BOOST program is a valuable, first-hand way for students to learn about the equipment and processes they might encounter if they chose to pursue employment in the oil and gas industry. Cornell is one of only a few universities whose students have access to the BOOST program. Jianqiu Wang ’17 M.Eng. spent his recent Fall Break at the BOOST program. “It provided us such a fast-speed learning environment and let us gain hands-on experience,” says Wang. “During the training process, we applied all the chemical engineering knowledge we learned to make assumptions, build the model, and solve it. It provided us with a perfect example of how we can apply engineering to practice.”

Hurwitz believes the experience is valuable not just for students considering work in the petroleum industry. “As I see it, there are four valuable aspects to the experience,” says Hurwitz. “First and most obviously, the students get a brief but intense introduction to oil and gas technology, especially offshore production.  Second, they learn the basics of gravitational separation processes that are used in many industries and have the opportunity to build a predictive model and use it to understand a real process system. Third, the students have hands on experience trouble shooting and operating a process system.  Fourth, each student learns how to interact productively with experienced and skilled process operators.  This last aspect is especially important and will serve the students well as they start their careers in industry.”

Al Center agrees with Hurwitz on the value of the BOOST program to Cornell students. Center, who had a long and distinguished career in the oil and gas industry before joining the faculty at Cornell, adds “A number of our M.Eng. students do not come to us with an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering and this experience provides them with a crash course in unit operations that very much increases their understanding of how all the descriptive equations they have been learning are applied to real equipment.”

During the course of the four-day program, students first tour the facility to become familiar with the equipment and to receive direct instruction in operation of the simulator. They then work as either inside or outside operators to put into action what they have learned prior to the visit. While operating the equipment under different gas/oil/water operating condition ratios they also evaluate equipment performance in a test run environment. 

M.Eng. student Hao Su ’16 does not plan to work in the oil and gas industry. “My specialization is product design,” Says Su, “which involves the optimization and assessment of systems. Shell BOOST offered a great opportunity for me to understand how a system works and also how to operate it.”

A program like this is valuable to any chemical engineering M.Eng. student with an interest in the process industries, including oil and gas, chemical, energy, water, or agriculture. As with any program involving travel and extensive and complex technological systems, participation in the BOOST program requires a significant financial investment. The three visits to the Shell training facility this year have all been sponsored by the generous support of CBE alumni, most notably, Michael A. Gibson ('65), M.Eng. ('66), Ph.D. ('73), Rice University and Alfred Center (’65), M.Eng. (’66). If you are interested in helping to ensure that Cornell students continue to have this valuable opportunity, please contact June Losurdo at or 607.254.1643.