Like star athletes, engineering students Julie Arsenault and Emily Reasor are prized prospects for the energy industry, which is experiencing dizzying demand for engineers.
Bustling oilfield activity and retiring baby boomers, among other factors, have petroleum outfits large and small trying to hire thousands of engineers, and experts say the trend is expected to extend into the next decade as worldwide energy demand grows.
"I've talked to quite a few of my peers, and we know we're in a good spot," Cornell University's Ms. Reasor said as she and Ms. Arsenault, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, took part in a weeklong recruitment program sponsored by Royal Dutch Shell's U.S. arm. "It's nice to know we're needed."
Management consulting firm Oliver Wyman says roughly eight in 10 global oil and gas companies forecast a shortage of petroleum engineers through at least 2011.
The American Petroleum Institute said U.S. energy companies will need at least another 5,000 engineers by decade's end.
Petroleum engineers evaluate potential oil and gas reservoirs, work with geologists and other specialists to understand rock formations, determine drilling methods and then monitor drilling and recovery operations.
One of their big tasks is to design methods that achieve maximum recovery of oil and gas.
"I can assure you, it's tight from a supply standpoint, hot from a demand standpoint and lucrative from a job searcher's standpoint," said Cary Wilkins, who leads Shell's recruitment efforts in the United States and Canada.
The shortage of engineers has been caused in part by the upsurge in exploration and a wave of retirements from baby boomers who have spent 25 to 30 years on the job.
API says low college enrollment in petroleum engineering and other majors that support the oil and gas business also is to blame - in part because of the industry's reputation as an unreliable employer.