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Dr. Todd Halihan addresses attendees of the NGWAU Summit at the Hamm Institute in Oklahoma City on April 9, 2024.

OSU welcomes legislators, industry leaders to groundwater summit at Hamm Institute

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Media Contact: Elizabeth Gosney | CAS Marketing and Communications Manager | 405-744-7497 |

On April 9, Oklahoma State University held the second National Ground Water Association University (NGWAU) Summit at the Hamm Institute for American Energy in Oklahoma City.

In its ongoing effort to advance groundwater education, training, outreach and research, NGWAU Powered by OSU hosted industry leaders, legislators, academics and community members to learn more about how the program is increasing awareness of and accessibility to groundwater.

“If you look at the broader scope of health in the world, it’s clean water that keeps us alive,” said  Dr. Todd Halihan, OSU Boone Pickens School of Geology interim head. “If hospitals had to deal with the rate of illness from waterborne diseases, they would be overrun.

“So, the goal of NGWAU is to create content to train groundwater professionals in the field and bring new people into groundwater careers so we can avoid the predicted 130,000-person shortfall the industry is facing in the near future.”

A collaboration between the National Ground Water Association and OSU’s College of Arts and Sciences, NGWAU was established in 2020. Over the past four years, NGWAU has seen significant growth under the leadership of Dr. Caitlin Barnes. As of March, 255 people in 24 states and six countries have participated in NGWAU’s professional development and training courses, and NGWAU’s K-12 curriculum has reached 387 schools, 42 states and more than 40,000 students.  

“Our strategy is to recruit, educate and inspire,” Barnes said. “We’ve created something where anyone, no matter their educational background or job experience, can jump into the training pipeline at any point along their journey to get the education they need to succeed.”

Barnes explained that NGWAU’s professional development courses are all non-credit at the moment, “but we’re working to expand that.”  

“Right now, topics include general workplace safety, rig safety, fundamentals of geology and hydrogeology, rig types and well design,” Barnes said. “Starting with third graders — which is when kids may start choosing their future careers — all the way to adulthood, we’re offering a way for people to pursue a career that they love.”

NGWAU’s focus on workforce development falls in line with the recently established OSU Polytech. During the summit, OSU Senior Vice President of System Affairs Kyle Wray emphasized the statewide and national impact of these two OSU-led initiatives.

“NGWAU, like OSU Polytech, is elevating and expanding access to workforce development,” Wray said. “Comparing what NGWAU has been doing since 2020 with OSU Polytech’s core pillars — innovative STEM-based curriculum, industry-aligned academic programs, flexible learning opportunities, and real-world learning experience — it’s easy to see how the two seamlessly align.

“No matter who you root for come football season, I think we’re all in agreement that workforce development, especially when it comes to accessing clean water, deserves our full attention.”

Summit attendees also heard from David Traut, president of the National Ground Water Association, and Robert Keyes, president and CEO of Associated Environmental Industries. Both men are industry leaders and experienced drillers who have been integral to the success of NGWAU.

“Water is one of those commodities we take for granted until we don’t have it,” Traut said. “I’ve drilled in 22 states, and I feel fortunate to have been exposed to the contractors of the groundwater industry as well as the scientists and engineers. I would be lost without those scientists and engineers; it’s a partnership.”

Keyes echoed Traut’s remarks about the critical collaborations that must take place in the groundwater industry and how NGWAU is fostering them through its strategic mission: inspiring the rising generation, recruiting new groundwater professionals and educating those currently in the workforce.

“This partnership between NGWA and OSU is giving us a standardized program to build groundwater professionals who have the capacity to think beyond where they stand. To feel and understand what’s going on below,” Keyes said. “NGWAU is the beginning of the most effective way of changing the industry by creating groundwater professionals — whether that’s running the rig or being a pump installer or being a geologist or engineer. This is the path to protecting our resources and sustaining our groundwater.” 

For more information about the National Ground Water Association University, visit

Dr. Caitlin BarnesRobert Keyes
Dr. Caitlin Barnes, Robert Keyes and Kyle Wray speak during the 2024 NGWAU Summit in Oklahoma City.

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