Lake Charles, La. – Mar. 5, 2015 – Five McNeese State University engineering students will have the opportunity to work with professional engineers from the Ocean Exploration Trust (OET) to build and test a new deep-sea geological sampling tool they designed, the results of a sponsorship from CITGO Petroleum Corporation.

The students, winners of the OET’s 2014/2015 Nautilus Engineering Design Challenge, competed against their peers from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Virginia Science and Technology Campus of George Washington University-D.C. to design an effective way to collect geographical samples from dense, firmly affixed deep-sea rock formations. This new tool will allow OET’s Nautilus Exploration Program to study underwater geological structures that they were previously unable to recover from the seafloor, due to insufficient technology.

The winning design – created by the McNeese State University undergraduate team of Nathan Stratton, Sandesh Thapa, Pawan Yadav, Garrett Soileau and Daniel Decareaux, with the support of Dean of Engineering Dr. Nikos Kiritsis, faculty advisor Dr. Ning Zhang and assistant Dr. Zhuang Li – is a durable and cost-effective improvement to a rock chipping hammer for a remotely operated vehicle capable of working in the ocean at depths up to 13,000 feet. The team’s reduced recoil sampling tool design will allow scientists to sample and study rocks that will provide significant insights into seafloor geological processes and oceanic crust formation.

The team will be honored at the McNeese Engineering Banquet tonight at SEED Center, in Lake Charles.

“CITGO is dedicated to improving the quality of our coastal and oceanic environments by empowering future engineers and scientists through education,” said CITGO President and CEO Nelson P. Martínez. “We applaud the McNeese University team on both their victory and their contribution toward environmental stewardship.”

Throughout the spring semester, OET engineers will work with the McNeese University team to build their reduced recoil sampling tool. With the team connecting to the ship live from Lake Charles via telepresence, the tool will be put to the test this summer aboard OET’s Exploration Vessel Nautilus in an exploration off of the Galapagos Islands. The public will be able to observe these efforts in real time, 24 hours a day online the Nautilus Live website (, on Facebook at NautilusLive and on Twitter at @EVNautilus.

OET’s Vice President of Education, Outreach and Communications Allison Fundis said: “the students showed an impressive level of teamwork and professionalism throughout the challenge and came up with a very creative solution for a real-world problem ocean engineers and marine geologists have been facing. We hope that our continued partnership with CITGO provides them with valuable lessons that equip them to contribute to further restoration efforts of our coastal environments.”

McNeese President Philip Williams said: “this is an exciting and significant achievement by our engineering students and faculty. The College of Engineering has a tremendous reputation for producing industry-ready graduates and winning this competition illustrates the broad range of expertise of these students. Our long-standing partnership with CITGO is important to the growth and success of the College of Engineering and we appreciate CITGO’s sponsorship that allowed McNeese to participate in this very selective national competition.”

The National Engineering Design Challenge is made possible in part by support from CITGO through its Caring for Our Coast initiative, a yearlong environmental conservation and restoration campaign that celebrates the resilience and recovery of the Gulf Coast region in the almost 10 years since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The storms resulted in the erosion of beaches, loss of dunes and disappearing wetlands along the Gulf Coast, heavily affecting CITGO employees, company operations and the surrounding community. CITGO employees at the Lake Charles refinery worked selflessly to bring its operations back in record time to provide the fuel and the products so desperately needed in the region.

About CITGO Petroleum
CITGO is a Houston-based refiner, transporter and marketer of transportation fuels, lubricants, petrochemicals and other industrial products. The company is owned by CITGO Holding, Inc., an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., the national oil company of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. For more information, visit

About the Ocean Exploration Trust
The Ocean Exploration Trust was founded in 2008 by Dr. Robert Ballard. Our international program centers on scientific exploration of the seafloor launched from aboard the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus, a 64-meter research vessel currently based in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to conducting scientific exploration, the Nautilus Exploration Program offers telepresence to explorers on shore and the public via live video, audio and data feeds. The program also includes an education component that brings educators and students on oceanographic expeditions. The 2015 expedition sponsors are the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Bechtel, the Viola and Panthers Foundations, Office of Naval Research, the National Geographic Society, University of Rhode Island and additional private donors. Follow us online at, on Facebook and Instagram at NautilusLive, and on Twitter as @EVNautilus.

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