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A well drilling rig

New OSU collaboration aims to improve global access to groundwater

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Media Contact: Jacob Longan | Coordinator of Communications and Marketing | 405-744-7497 |

A collaboration between Oklahoma State University and the National Groundwater Association aims to improve access to groundwater around the world by addressing a projected shortfall of geoscience workers.

Capturing groundwater is not possible without a proper workforce of water-well drilling contractors and pump installers who access and deliver groundwater for drinking water, irrigation and industries.

NGWA University Powered by OSU is creating a series of groundwater training courses delivered online with classroom and field courses being developed for the future. The program will offer career development opportunities for industry professionals, university students and entry-level workers, and it can prepare them for rigorous certification exams or could lead to university degrees. These courses will improve the safety and skills of drilling industry members and systematically address the critical shortage of professionals in the industry.

OSU President Kayse Shrum called this program “a wonderful example of how we fulfill the land-grant mission.”

“We look for opportunities to address the modern issues facing our state, nation and world,” she added. “OSU has a long history in groundwater education, so we understand that 98.5 percent of the drinking water available to people is in the ground. We are proud to collaborate with the NGWA to address this issue.”

National Groundwater Association CEO Terry S. Morse, CAE, CIC, said many knowledgeable and experienced geoscientists are aging into retirement.

Terry Morse
Terry Morse

“Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the field was projected to face a shortfall of 135,000 workers by 2022,” Morse added. “We need to train the next group of people who will manage groundwater and operate these rigs. That is obviously a serious problem, not just for the industry, but for everyone considering that access to clean water increases life expectancy by 20-plus years. So NGWA was compelled to address this problem, and OSU will help us meet this challenge.”

Dr. Todd Halihan, a professor in OSU’s Boone Pickens School of Geology, agreed, noting that 44 percent of Americans rely on water from wells provided by the groundwater industry.

“Groundwater is the most stable water resource and doesn’t suffer from evaporation like surface reservoirs. People don’t realize how much groundwater research and infrastructure is here in Oklahoma from federal and university researchers, and industrial partners in drilling and consulting,” Halihan said. “It just makes sense to establish this collaboration between OSU and NGWA, a win-win for both their association and our university, and it will benefit countless individuals who rely on groundwater.”

The first course in the new program is Drilling Basics Online, a series of five, eight-hour sessions developed with the collaboration of industry professionals, scientists, engineers and experts in online education. The course covers the skills and competencies tested for on groundwater drilling exams.

Up to 5,000 people are expected to participate in this course in just the first two years, and it has unlimited capacity to accommodate high volumes of participants at any given time. Because it is self-paced and delivered entirely online, it is ideal for the non-drilling days of workforce employees as well as for those working from home and the currently unemployed.

Dr. Todd Halihan
Dr. Todd Halihan

Dr. Caitlin Barnes, director of NGWA University Powered by OSU, called it a wonderful collaboration.

“NGWA has an excellent vision for addressing a serious problem, and we are proud to be part of it,” Barnes said. “They already have training materials and industry experts, so through OSU’s existing infrastructure in outreach and innovation in online education, we can help reach new audiences and make this training accessible in a way that it hasn’t been before. Enrollees can participate anywhere and anytime.”

The initial funding for the program is in place, thanks to the generosity of Robert C. Keyes & Associated Environmental Industries Corp., Franklin Electric, PumpsOK, and David Traut & Traut Cos.

Because groundwater issues are global, NGWA University Powered by OSU is designed to allow international participation. For example, some funding has already been secured to offer the curriculum in Spanish. Other languages will be added.

The program is also in the process of making all content keyboard-accessible to meet the needs of a diverse audience.

While Drilling Basics is entirely online, more courses are being created to prepare participants for other certification exams. In fact, NGWA University Powered by OSU plans to unveil a total of five before the annual NGWA Groundwater Week in December.

Unlike Drilling Basics, some of the courses will require hands-on experience. To address that need, OSU will be hosting workshops locally and is pursuing partnerships with universities across the country to host more.

Dr. Caitlin Barnes
Dr. Caitlin Barnes

Another way OSU is addressing groundwater issues is to increase interest in and awareness of geoscience for students before they even reach college. The new digitized Awesome Aquifer kit includes online components that allows K-12 students to participate in virtual exercises such as manipulating the water table and visualizing aquifer recharge. Teachers receive physical kits that allow students to take turns with other exercises such as pouring water on rocks and noting the reactions.

“The digital version of the kit alongside the physical version allows us to reach more students than ever,” Barnes said. “It reduces certain barriers, like access to supplies, and creates a game-like educational experience. We want it to be easy, fun and entertaining while teaching about groundwater concepts. We want students to understand these concepts before they get to college. We want them to understand that access to groundwater is a long-term solution to fresh water access, and that pursuing a career in this field is as fun and interesting as it is crucial to our society.”

Donors can help fund the development of NGWA University Powered by OSU courses, or purchase Awesome Aquifer kits for schools. For more information, visit For questions, contact Caitlin Barnes at

Photos By: College of Arts and Sciences

Story By: Jacob Longan | CONNECT Magazine

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