Summer internships mark the next step for an alumnus committed to professional mentorship

Steven Bender ’05 did not envision a career in the energy industry as an English major graduating from Rice. But exposure to oilfield manufacturing opened his eyes to the possibilities and sparked a successful career as manager of oilfield equipment company Cactus Wellhead. Now, he is providing the same firsthand exposure to the industry for Rice students.

“Probably like most Rice alumni, I’m so impressed by the caliber of Rice students,” he said. “What makes Rice students unique is their world focus and global perspective. That benefits companies regardless of the field, and these are the people I want to bring to Cactus Wellhead.”

This winter, Bender offered students Michael Devine ’18 and Vera Liu ’18 a glimpse of how an oilfield manufacturing company does business by offering Owl Edge Externships, one-day job-shadowing experiences hosted by Rice alumni and friends. The students visited Cactus Wellhead’s manufacturing facility in Louisiana to see every step of operations — from customer service to manufacturing to installation.

“We mold raw materials into the finished product,” Bender said. “The product is then inspected for delivery to and installation at locations across the U.S. and the world. Michael and Vera got to watch a piece go through the manufacturing process and interact with the team of people working together to make it all happen.”

To create an Owl Edge Internship, please complete the application form or contact Debbie Diamond, director of special projects for Development and Alumni Relations, at

“First, I got to see some absolutely cutting-edge, precision manufacturing equipment in action,” said Devine, a mechanical engineering major. “But I also got to see firsthand how Steve makes an impact in the company. Watching him make decisions, organize information and create opportunities showed me it’s not always what you know but how you react and respond that makes the difference.”

Bender looks forward to connecting Cactus Wellhead with more Rice students who want to complement their technical knowledge with other professional skills.

“I think what benefits companies in general, regardless of the field, is a creative mind willing to think outside of the box,” he said. “Also, you can never overvalue the ability to communicate well, whether written or verbal communication. That is so critical to me.”

Bender also plans to host one or more interns this summer to work on a smartphone app for field technicians, through the Owl Edge Internship program. When Rice alumni and friends create an internship within their organizations, they help students grow intellectually and enhance professional knowledge and skills, while building a presence at Rice that can aid future recruiting.

The Rice interns at Cactus Wellhead will have the chance to improve a smartphone app in development.

“We are becoming more paperless,” he said, “so we’ve been developing apps for Android and iPhone for our service technicians to use in the field. I’m hoping to have interns help us continue to refine the product and close the feedback loop on what works and doesn’t work.”

“It was a privilege to spend the day exploring a potential career with a Rice alum and experienced professional. Steven gave us the chance to see how everything comes together.” — Vera Liu ’18

Bender credits Leadership Rice, a signature program of the Center for Civic Leadership, and an internship with as experiences that enhanced his undergraduate coursework, boosted his confidence and expanded his career perspective.

“Leadership Rice was my first instance of looking outside of my traditional education and seeing an application at work,” he said. “I could explore my skillset and toolkit and see what I could do with it in a real-world setting. The more opportunities like this that we can offer students, the better.”

To learn more about creating an Owl Edge Internship, please complete the Rice volunteer application form or contact Debbie Diamond, director of special projects for Development and Alumni Relations, at

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