Monday, May 4, 2015
By Governor Mary Fallin
Science isn’t just something that happens in labs. It touches every industry in our state and it impacts every Oklahoman. Science, technology, engineering and math (or “STEM”) lead to innovative breakthroughs that improve our quality of life, promote a better-educated workforce, create higher-paying jobs and help Oklahoma retain our most valuable asset – our people.
For that reason, it is important that we keep up with the demand for STEM-educated Oklahomans.
Being STEM-educated requires pursuing education beyond high school: either a traditional four-year college degree, an associate’s degree, or a career tech certificate. Unfortunately, only about half of our population receives any formal education after high school. That means we have a long way to go to fill the state’s pipeline for STEM-related jobs. That is especially true given that Oklahoma is expected to have to replace 54 percent of the existing STEM workforce due to retirement and other factors over the next ten years.
To help accelerate STEM learning and to increase overall educational attainment in Oklahoma, I have launched a new initiative called Oklahoma Works. It is an aggressive plan to support partnerships between local businesses, career tech, higher education and K-12 schools. Oklahoma Works is about getting students and adults the tools and skills they need to find great careers. It’s also about ensuring we have a skilled, educated workforce that can support our businesses.
There are already great examples of successful private/public partnerships of the kind Oklahoma Works will promote and strengthen.
For instance, last month the GE Foundation (the charitable arm of GE) announced it would donate $400,000 to create “STEM Empowers OK,” a partnership with the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics. The new initiative includes a weeklong STEM program, regional innovation forums and an Open Innovation Challenge for middle- and high school students to share their ideas on ways to build a better and stronger Oklahoma. The challenge will involve students offering inventions and solutions to help solve a real-world problem in one of three major industries tied most closely to Oklahoma’s business ecosystem – energy, aviation and transportation.
In Tulsa, PSO and the AEP-Foundation have partnered with Tulsa Community College and Tulsa Public Schools to promote STEM learning by allowing high school students to be simultaneously enrolled in college-level STEM courses and by promoting STEM career opportunities through activities like job fairs.
Tulsa Public Schools also recently announced they will be opening the Tulsa Tech Aerospace Academy, specifically geared towards giving high school students the skills they need to get great aerospace jobs after graduation.
Quite fittingly, all of these announcements occurred in April: Oklahoma’s Science and Technology Month. For more than 20 years, science teachers across the state have used that month to partner with OCAST and honor thousands of middle- and high school students who are excelling in STEM courses. I am proud not only of the students who received those awards, but also of their teachers, who are instructing the next generation of inventors, researchers and innovators.
Oklahoma has a long way to go to reach our STEM goals. But by building creative partnerships between the public and private sector and continuing to get our kids excited about STEM, I know we can achieve those goals and ensure the next generation is even more technically skilled and productive than the last.
For more information on Oklahoma Works, visit http://oklahomaworks.gov/.