UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When David Donohue was a young man, fresh out of graduate school at Penn State and working for a major oil and gas corporation, he believed he found a way to improve a production process for his employer. His suggestion went up the chain of command but, apparently caught in red tape, never came to fruition.
The experience awakened a passion in Donohue to build — and to do it his way. He followed his ambitions and eventually started two successful companies, along the way becoming a noted technical specialist, businessman, attorney and lecturer.
International Human Resources Development Corp. (IHRDC), which Donohue founded more than 50 years ago, and where he still serves as president, is a worldwide leader in training and employee development for the oil and gas industry.
More than 15,000 energy industry managers and executives worldwide have taken IHRDC’s many courses over the decades. During that time, Donohue never stopped building. The company started with a handful of lecture-based courses and evolved into books, instructional videos, competency management systems, interactive learning simulation games, and more than a thousand internet courses, which hundreds of learners access daily.
“I’m motivated by creating new and better ways for adults in our industry to learn the knowledge and skills needed to be better performers,” Donohue said. “As new technology evolved, we used it to create innovative products and services to enhance the learning experience.”
Donohue is among eight Penn State alumni selected to receive the 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award — the highest honor the University bestows on its alumni.
“It’s an honor to be recognized like this,” said Donohue, who, in addition to receiving his doctorate from the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, is a former Penn State professor. “I’ve always had a great affection for Penn State, and my time there was a great foundational period for me.”
‘In my bones’
Raised in Canada, Donohue has deep roots in both the oil and gas industry and Pennsylvania. He spent his summers working on his family’s oil leases near Bradford and Oil City.
“My grandfather had two oil leases with about 80 wells in the Bradford field, which he drilled and produced, and his father, my great-grandfather, had earlier wells near Oil City,” Donohue said. “They were independent businessmen — I think that independent spirit is in my bones.”
Donohue pursued his own career in oil and gas after studying engineering at McGill University and receiving a bachelor of science in petroleum engineering from the University of Oklahoma and a doctorate in petroleum and natural gas engineering from Penn State. He worked in operations, research and engineering for several energy companies before returning to Penn State as a faculty member in petroleum and natural gas engineering in 1964.
“I’ve always wanted to find better ways to teach and for people to learn,” Donohue said. “Penn State gave me a strong foundation in technology; the opportunity to develop my teaching skills; the academic background and curiosity to research, write and develop learning content; the creativity to present it in a simple way; and the satisfaction of seeing a person’s eyes light up when you reveal a new world to them.”
In 1968, he left to enter law school and received a juris doctor degree in corporate law from Boston College Law School in 1971. While he was in law school, he formed IHRDC and, soon after being admitted to the bar, started Arlington Storage Company, the first independent developer of underground gas storage facilities in the United States.
Since his time as a graduate student and, later, faculty member at Penn State, Donohue has continued to give back to the University over the years.
Donohue, along with his son Timothy, made a $1 million gift on behalf of their family to endow a professorship in the John and Willie Leone Department of Energy and Mineral Engineering in 2015. Timothy Donohue, vice president of IHRDC’s e-Learning and Knowledge Solutions team, received a master of science in geosciences from Penn State in 1993.
David Donohue and his wife, Pamela, previously established the David and Pamela Donohue Trustee Scholarship in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences to provide financial assistance to undergraduates who demonstrate need for funds to meet college expenses.
“I’ve always had an affinity for Penn State, serving on various committees and different and advisory boards,” he said. “I met many graduate students I knew or taught there later in life in different settings and there was always a great deal of pride among them and within the industry for Penn State. Its reputation for the University and the college is strong and widespread.”
Donohue will receive his Distinguished Alumni Award during a ceremony in October on the University Park campus.