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New Member Spotlight: Aramco

UIDP welcomes Aramco as a new member organization this year. Aramco is a leading energy and chemical producer, with products that drive global commerce and enhance the lives of people around the globe.

UIDP: What is Aramco hoping to gain from this membership with UIDP in the coming year?

Aramco: Collaborating with UIDP and respective members to identify, share, and implement best practices and mechanisms for success as they relate to industry-university partnerships. There are various areas in which we engage with universities, such as talent development, research and development, innovation, environmental challenges, etc., and in alignment with Saudi Aramco’s needs and strategic goals. Learning what has worked well for UIDP members will be an invaluable way to benchmark our own practices to identify areas for improvement.

UIDP: What are the current challenges that Aramco is facing in the development of university-industry partnerships?

Aramco: Aramco is a large and diverse organization that is working on leveraging the numerous U-I opportunities in a meaningful way. We utilize our overseas offices and global research centers around the world to further engage our university partners to supplement our university engagements from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. We presently have more than 2,100 students around the world studying at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. With any large organization, getting alignment from the varied business needs can be a complex exercise as they are dynamic and can change over time.

UIDP: Please share any innovative ways that Aramco is making an impact on U-I interactions.

Aramco: Aramco regularly identifies and engages with select universities with whom the company deems a potential key partner for academics, R&D, recruitment, and societal outreach. Also, we hold numerous events continuously for our sponsored students to volunteer at various local charities, including food banks and more. These are held throughout the U.S. where our students live and go to school.

We also align our efforts with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s vision to improve the capacities of our national universities in both academics and research.

On a different subject, we have repeatedly turned to U-I collaborations to find the next generation of successful Saudi-based start-ups. Two include FalconViz, a maker of aerial drones for mapping, surveying and monitoring; and, a developer of traffic management software that relies on artificial intelligence to improve road safety.

UIDP: Please share with us about a particularly successful U-I project or partnership.

Aramco: Beyond our robust and long-term relationships with many national and international universities, one international partnership we would like to highlight is our current engagement with the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST) in South Korea.

Aramco and KAIST have jointly developed the CO2 Management Center located at KAIST, whose focus is to develop innovative and systematic technologies/solutions for CO2 capture, conversion, and reduction. It is a perfect marriage of basic science, engineering, and industrial application, which is critical for the translation of groundbreaking research to generate impact and value for society.

Also, we partnered with Michigan Tech University on the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Collegiate Design Series program. We sponsored their 150-person design team to create an energy efficient vehicle. We’ve done this over the last several years and hope to continue that partnership in the future. Some success points included the publicity of the students and the program university-wide. There were multiple ways we were able to highlight their achievements on digital and social platforms, and, subsequently, highlight our commitment to energy efficiency.

UIDP: Please share something that you wish people knew about your organization relevant to your external collaborations.

Aramco: Aramco traces its beginnings to 1933 when a Concession Agreement was signed between Saudi Arabia and the Standard Oil Company of California (SOCAL). A subsidiary company, the California Arabian Standard Oil Company (CASOC), was created to manage the agreement. We’ve had offices in the U.S. since the beginning; our U.S. headquarters has been in Houston since 1974, now called Aramco Americas. So we’ve been part of the American fabric for a long time.

Since then, we’ve partnered with numerous environmental organizations, educational institutions, art and science museums, and community leadership in the cities where we have offices. Citizenship has always been part of our corporate values and at the crux of our relationship-building with communities. People may not know that we have over 1,100 sponsored students in the U.S. studying at various universities. These students are not only committed to their studies, but also to contributing to the communities they now call home.

Today, Aramco has three in-Kingdom research centers and nine satellite centers and technology offices around the world. Establishing and growing a global research and technology presence is an integral component of our drive to develop breakthrough solutions for the challenges faced by our industry and energy consumers everywhere. The network we have established reflects our belief that investments in technology development are critical to ensure future generations can enjoy the economic benefits of a sustainable energy supply while also protecting the natural environment.

An interesting fact some may not know is that Aramco operates its own hospital, airline, school, and golf courses, as well as a landmark cultural center, Ithra. Ithra is a project pioneering in innovation, culture, and knowledge founded by Aramco. Opening its doors to the public in 2018, it is iconic in its architecture across the Dhahran skyline, housing over 850,000 square feet in a Gold LEED-certified structure. Highlights include a cavernous library, 18-floor Ithra Tower, Idea Lab, Energy Exhibit, five museum galleries, cinema, and a 900-seat performing arts theater.

On another note, it is interesting knowing the Aramco environmental developments to promote biodiversity such as the mangrove eco-park in the Arabian Gulf coastline, and the Shaybah Wildlife Sanctuary. In the former, the company is developing a mangrove eco-park, which when completed will protect 63 square kilometers of mangrove forest, salt marsh and sea grass habitats – important nurseries for fish and shrimp. In addition to restoring critical habitat for marine life and birds, these mangrove forests serve as the most significant natural CO2 sink in the Kingdom, according to research studies conducted in partnership with KFUPM and KAUST. In the latter, the 637 square kilometer Shaybah Wildlife Sanctuary protects dozens of native plants and animal species and has allowed the company to reintroduce the Arabian oryx, Arabian sand gazelles and ostriches into their historical habitat—three Arabian species that were on the brink of extinction. Scientific studies conducted within the sanctuary have enhanced the academic partnerships between Aramco and other academic institutes such as KAUST, paving the way for future environmental-based research in the area.