Betty Van Norman

Betty Van NormanBetty Van Norman is helping aspiring engineers to forge their own path through a generous estate gift.

Betty Van Norman, a trailblazer in the oil and gas industry and a world-renowned log analyst and computer programmer, will enable aspiring engineers to forge their own path through a generous estate gift to the LSU College of Engineering.

"We are proud to be associated with Mrs. Van Norman and her pioneering contributions in an industry that was so dominated by men at the time," said Karsten Thompson, chair of the Craft & Hawkins Department of Petroleum Engineering. "Her continuing generosity to the college will help ensure that future deserving students can pursue their dreams of an engineering degree from LSU."

Betty always loved math, but doors to many jobs were closed to women at the time. She was working for an insurance company in New Orleans when a friend showed her a job advertisement seeking a woman in the mathematics field. In her new position at Schlumberger, Betty worked on a log to measure potential oil wells for major corporations. A four-point tool recorded the depth, magnitude and direction of wells' strata onto analog film, allowing oil companies to create a map of the wells. 

Technology was changing rapidly, and Schlumberger was transitioning to computer programming, which meant Betty and her colleagues would soon be without work. "The problem was that engineers did not sit down with someone who did this work to see how we made decisions. They just made a formula and set it in there," Betty said. "It really did not work in highly deviated wells and gave a distorted picture of the strata." 

Betty quickly built a reputation for extracting quality data from those deviated wells, and she was soon hired by Chevron as a programmer. "It was the ‘60s. These logs had to be computed in a hurry because the crews were out there waiting for answers and circulating mud, which is very expensive." Word of Betty's expertise began to spread internationally. "Everyone had heard of me, so I just went on my own to do these logs as an independent. It was marvelous! I got to do logs all over the world until I retired in 1989," she said. 

At Chevron, Betty met her husband, the late Eugene Van Norman (Engineering, '58), a petroleum engineer at the company. Gene trained and mentored many engineers through Chevron. Betty remembers the guidance he would give them: "Always do everything properly, all the way through. Never shortcut a project for the sake of time. Take the time that you need to really get it right." 

Betty's father, a WWI veteran, was a major influence on her investment in higher education: "He saw the world for the first time and met educated people. He made up his mind that his children were going to college," she shared. "We lived in a poor section of Tennessee where people were lucky to get a high school education. But in the third grade, I knew I was going to college." She hopes the scholarships her gift makes possible will lift the same financial burdens that she and Gene, who attended LSU on a G.I. bill and earned a full scholarship to Texas A&M for his master's, faced through college. 

Now a Baton Rouge resident and a volunteer at Baton Rouge General's Regional Burn Center, Betty shared a single piece of advice for students, especially women, venturing into the oil and gas industry: "Don't be intimidated."