In the moments before several hundred middle and high school students tackled challenging projects at this year’s Oklahoma Engineering Fair in February, they gathered for an opening ceremony.
Speakers welcomed the students to the Science Museum of Oklahoma and told them that GE Corporation was one of the sponsors of the event. Then they were given an impromptu quiz.
“How many of you know what GE is?” the students were asked. A few dozen hands went up.
For the next 30 seconds or so the students learned that GE is one of the nation’s largest employers of engineers and that it is building a $110 million, 125,000-square-foot global research center for oil and natural gas technology in the heart of Oklahoma City.
Anyone who has driven on the Centennial Expressway near downtown Oklahoma City in the past few months has seen the magnificent structure rising from the ground. It will stand as a gleaming example of the impact that education in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics – STEM – can have on individual lives and whole communities.
The opening this summer of the GE Global Research Center, along with Boeing’s new $80 million global services and support facility in Oklahoma City, will create more demand for a STEM-educated workforce in our state.
All through April, which is Oklahoma’s science and technology month, I am highlighting the value of STEM education and the high-paying, rewarding careers like those at GE and Boeing.
The growth of STEM-related jobs like these diversify our economy and help soften the effects of economic downturns.
But students need to be inspired to pursue STEM-related jobs, which require education beyond high school, whether that’s a traditional four-year degree, an associate’s degree or CareerTech certificate.
That’s where initiatives such as Oklahoma Works fit in. I launched Oklahoma Works in part to help stimulate interest and growth in STEM education across the state. Oklahoma Works supports partnerships between local businesses, CareerTech, higher education and K-12 schools to help both students and adults obtain the skills they need to build rewarding careers.
The GE Foundation has contributed to the effort in a big way. It provided a $400,000 grant to create the “STEM Empowers OK” partnership with the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics.
This year’s Oklahoma Engineering Fair was part of that STEM Empowers OK initiative. It was just one event among many designed to create interest among our young people in pursuing STEM-related careers.
Let’s continue building momentum and enthusiasm for STEM education and careers all through the year.