International duo forms a unique System Dynamics collaboration


David L. Dodds

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International duo forms a unique System Dynamics collaboration

Eduard Romanenko is on his second academic journey into the heart of the United States.

The first time around, the native of Vladivostok, Russia, was on an exchange opportunity to Lawrence University in Appleton, Wis. He did, however, have a couple of pals who ventured farther west to schools in North Dakota.

"I heard different stories from them about the temperature extremes, and back then, I thought I would never come to a place like that," said Romanenko, who received his bachelor's degree in international economics from Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, a city on Russia's Pacific coast near China, Japan and South Korea.

A lot has changed since then.

Romanenko is one of two students from the University of Bergen (UiB) in Norway who are currently working on their master's degrees at the University of North Dakota. Romanenko and Andres Julian Gil Garcia, a native of Manizales, Colombia, are pursuing European Master's Degrees in System Dynamics, through UiB and a consortium of allied institutions in Europe and at the UND College of Engineering & Mines (CEM), which is an associate member of the group.

System Dynamics is an interdisciplinary response to dynamically complex problems around the world, using high-tech computer modeling to simulate scenarios and project outcomes, relying heavily on stakeholder input to come up with solutions.

Romanenko and Garcia are working on independent theses, but the nature of their work and the idea behind System Dynamics necessitates the two collaborate on parts of their projects. The focus of their theses is the market dynamics associated with the commercialization of carbon-capture technologies and the use of carbon dioxide (CO2) for enhanced oil recovery, something of great concern to the people of the Bakken oil-producing region and Williston Basin of western North Dakota.

Romanenko, who, in addition to his economics bachelor's degree, holds a master's in economic policy and global markets from Central European University in Hungary, clearly brings a strong background in economic theory and financial markets. Garcia, who got his bachelor's degree in petroleum engineering from National University in Medellin, Colombia, possesses the technical engineering experience needed for the collaboration.

"What makes System Dynamics special is the holistic, rather than fragmented, view of a problem, and we would love to maintain this approach throughout our project work," Romanenko said. "In practice, this means that we might work on distinct pieces separately from time to time, but the important chunks of work will be happening in direct cooperation."

Last year, UND and its CEM signed a series of agreements with UiB and its Faculty (School) of Social Sciences and with the Petroleum Research School of Norway. These paved the way for faculty and student exchanges between UND and the Norwegian entities. The memoranda of understanding (MOUs) are a big reason why Romanenko and Garcia ended up at UND.

Romanenko says he's glad to be here, despite his preconceived notions of North Dakota.

"The quality of the program was so good that I never hesitated to say yes," he said. "It's a perfect blend of economics and System Dynamics. System Dynamics supports social science research and I am a social scientist, but I also need technical experience, too."

That's where his partnership with Garcia comes in.

Garcia says it's exciting for him to study System Dynamics in North Dakota, where so much is taking place in his field of expertise out in the state's Bakken shale formation.

"For me, this is amazing to have the opportunity to come here and work on my thesis at a time and place where this is such a hot topic," he said.

David Wheat, associate professor of System Dynamics at UiB's Faculty of Social Sciences, says, with respect to their areas of expertise, Romanenko and Garcia were paired together for a reason. He also added that in the System Dynamics curriculum, an important skill to master is the ability to work with and effectively communicate ideas to the public, or stakeholders, whose problems are under the microscope.

"What we have here is a program that brings people together from a variety of different backgrounds," Wheat said. "Real-world issues don't exist in silos. It requires involvement from across various disciplines if you're going to make a difference. Our work is not supposed to go back on the shelf when it's done — it's supposed to change the way people think about the problems they face.

"But it's one thing to solve problems on a computer; it's another thing to do it in real life. That's why we emphasize feasibility in our policy modeling and stress communication with stakeholders."

Romanenko and Garcia were recruited to come to UND by Scott Johnson, a principal advisor in the UND Institute for Energy Studies (IES) and an instructor in the Department of Petroleum Engineering, which has grown considerably in recent years as a result of its connections to the private sector oil and gas industry and support from the IES.

Johnson, who studied at UiB and practiced System Dynamics in industry, was instrumental in setting up UND's exchange agreements with Norway.

"Anybody can sign an MOU — once that was done, we thought, 'well, what are we going to do about it?,'" Johnson said.

So Johnson visited UiB last year and reached out to Romanenko and Garcia about the opportunity for the unique System Dynamics collaboration at UND. At the same time, Johnson was wrapping up the first semester of a new class in System Dynamics at UND. One of his students from that class, Neva Hendrickson, who already holds a bachelor's degree from UND in anthropology (cultural anthropology emphasis) and a minor in chemistry, expressed interest in being the first UND student to take part in the exchange. She will be heading to UiB in August.

Hendrickson, a native of Tioga, N.D., in the heart of the oil-boom region, currently works in the UND Office of International Programs. She said she's intrigued by System Dynamics' ability to model scientific processes and analyses of social science problems.

"Since the model presents a low-risk environment, with no actual consequences, individuals can test out ideas and make adjustments that would not be possible in the real world where similar actions could have great consequences and risk," she said.

Johnson said the System Dynamics exchange arrangement with UiB is exceeding all expectations, so far.

"We tried to create some new opportunities here at UND for students and faculty, and it's worked the first time around," he said. "We couldn't be more pleased with how it's going."

Steve Benson, chair of the UND Department of Petroleum Engineering and director of the IES, said there's a lot of enthusiasm in the western part of the state for System Dynamics and how it can bring possible solutions to the real-world problems that many are facing there. He said he's had conversations with key stakeholders in the region — in government, industry, academics and health care — who are interested in taking the next step with regard to System Dynamics.

"We have an opportunity here to help the whole Williston Basin, in the wake of this whole unconventional resource play that has changed how we do business here and around the world," Benson said.

David Dodds University & Public Affairs writer

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