Alumni Profile: Robert Jolley

Robert JolleyRobert Jolley
Environmental and Resource Management Graduate Student

After 25 years of private, state and federal work experience—enhanced by his recent completion of the Environmental and Resource Management master’s degree program offered by Arizona State University—Robert Jolley is responsible for managing the Federal Helium Program.

As Field Manager, Jolley oversees a finite supply of crude helium contained in a helium-rich natural gas field near Amarillo, Texas.

Managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Federal Helium Program supplied helium for Naval blimps beginning in the 1920s and during World War II, the Kennedy administration’s space initiatives in the 1960s and 1970s and has supplied crude helium to private industries for use in MRIs, computers and other technology-related purposes since the mid-1990s. Currently the Federal Helium Program generates more than $200 million in public revenue each year.

But after nearly 100 years of government operations, the Federal Helium Reserve is nearing depletion and, as mandated in the Helium Stewardship Act of 2013, the BLM is required to dispose of the Federal Helium System by September 30, 2021.

As a result, Jolley said that, like many environmental engineers, he “walk[s] a tightrope” to manage what is left of our non-renewable resources, while also meeting societal demands.

Currently the BLM’s Amarillo reserve produces 70 percent of the U.S. demand for helium and 25 percent of the world’s demand. Other plants exist in Algeria, Russia and Qatar, and when the Amarillo supply is gone in 2021, primary users like the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and NASA will have to turn to those countries and a few remaining U.S. sources to meet their helium needs.

“The situation is challenging, but I enjoy challenges and will usually take the difficult path because, though harder, it provides the most opportunity for growth,” said Jolley.

In addition to managing the helium reserve, this personal philosophy influenced his decision to serve in the United States Marine Corps, to complete a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in his 30s and a master’s degree in his late 40s.

While earning his master’s degree, Jolley worked remotely from Washington D.C., was deployed in Iraq in 2008 and again in Afghanistan in 2012, and served as the sustainability lead for the Army Materiel Command. “During my graduate program my wife and I bought and sold four houses and moved five times,” said Jolley.

Despite the challenges, Jolley said he enjoyed the long hours, cramming, papers, projects, presentations and the three-day, on-campus cohort sessions, where students from all around the country had an opportunity to meet, learn and network.

“The cohorts were professionally executed and the wealth of knowledge of the Environmental and Resource Management faculty is remarkable,” said Jolley. Having visited the Polytechnic campus many times, Jolley said the location and facilities make it “a world-class educational facility.”

“Also, the diversity of the student body and the networking that is built into the program has been invaluable in my career,” said Jolley. In one instance, Jolley was working to implement an Environmental Management System and used connections from his graduate studies to provide a BLM group with a learning tour of a Phoenix-based manufacturer that had been using a similar system to address their environmental concerns.

“The ability to discuss environmental issues with professionals from around the country was a notable benefit of the program,” said Jolley.

Above all, Jolley recommends the Environmental and Resource Management program because “the classes are timely and provide the knowledge, skills and connections needed to succeed in environmental fields right now.”

“The practical application of environmental principles developed during the Environmental and Resource Management program prepares you to manage hazardous wastes, air emissions, water quality, recycling, renewable energy, energy conservation and more,” said Jolley.

“Proper management of these issues enhances the quality of life for the entire population and makes the world a better place to live.”