Those words, blared long ago from a loudspeaker in the Gulf of Mexico, translated into Paula Harris being on the board of three NYSE publicly traded oil tool companies, in addition to her community leadership and her job as Senior Vice President of Community and Foundation Executive Director for the Houston Astros major league baseball team.
From seven years as a field engineer in the Gulf of Mexico to a global sales and marketing venture to the C-suite and serving as a board member to publicly traded oil companies, Harris never visualized while growing up in Sunny Side, Houston, Texas, that she could accomplish so much in her life. But her dad, who served in Vietnam and later with the police force in Harris County, had BIG dreams for his daughter: He would pay for a degree at Texas A&M in petroleum engineering.
When Schlumberger (SLB) hired her to log wells in the Gulf of Mexico, she never imagined she would be the only woman and, on most rigs, the only African American. Beginning an offshore job in oil and gas as a minority has challenged every woman and every minority that has managed to survive. Harris was embarrassed that on every rig she landed on, she heard WOMAN ON BOARD announced over the loudspeaker; even the boats unloading her logging equipment could hear it. She had hoped that one day the offshore drilling crews would accept her without blaring the announcement. Harris did not always have a room to herself so, most of the time, she slept fully clothed until she was the senior leader of the SLB logging team. Later, she had her daughter while working in Perth, Australia, and raised her in many countries worldwide with help from her husband and parents.
In 2020, she was stunned to learn that her job as Global Director for ESG was being eliminated. She was offered a separation package; a 33-year around-the-world journey with SBL ended suddenly and without advance warning. She protested, reminding them she had worked seven years as a field engineer in the Gulf of Mexico. She then moved into sales and marketing and was asked to present papers at the prestigious Offshore Technology Conference (OTC), where she sat in the same room and on panels with CEOs, CFOs and many vice presidents.
Harris accepted volunteer leadership positions to serve on the board of The Houston Children’s Museum and The Houston Petroleum Club SPE board, where she was elected president. The Houston Chamber of Commerce invited her to participate in a program called WOMEN ON BOARD of publicly traded New York Stock Exchange corporations. She also serves on the boards of Helix Energy, Hunting Tools and Chart Industry. She successfully ran for the Houston Independent School District (HISD) board for two terms, where she focused on weaving STEM topics into every subject.
Harris’ passion has long been to inspire 4th through 6th graders to study math, biology, chemistry and computer coding, and to dream big about professions in STEM. During her talk, she spoke of students in elementary schools telling her that math and science problems were too difficult. Harris reminded them that every child that makes it to the big leagues in sports practices shooting a basketball into a hoop at least 10,000 times or hitting a baseball exactly where it needs to go for a win. If you practice solving math problems thousands of times, subjects like calculus, trigonometry and physics will suddenly become easier.
With the oil and gas industry looking for new employees, getting the message of STEM to 4th and 6th graders is critical. Harris brought her STEM teaching unit to the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) – Evangeline Section in Lafayette, Louisiana, in November 2023.
Read OILWOMAN’s Jan/Feb 2021 cover feature with Paula Harris.
Headline photo: Paula Harris at the Lafayette Petroleum Club with the pink drill bit that was created by David Gibson for those sponsors of the STEM event.
Lillian Espinoza-Gala, owner LEG Exploration Education, served on the steering committee for National Academy of Science Offshore Worker Empowerment workshop held in Houston in January 2018 and a section of her Macondo Research is published in Chapter 2 of the proceedings. She currently serves as a Membership Chair on SPE International Human Factors Technical Section Board.
Oil and gas operations are commonly found in remote locations far from company headquarters. Now, it's possible to monitor pump operations, collate and analyze seismic data, and track employees around the world from almost anywhere. Whether employees are in the office or in the field, the internet and related applications enable a greater multidirectional flow of information – and control – than ever before.