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Column: STEM centers to transform student and workforce futures
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Column: STEM centers to transform student and workforce futures

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Our public school teachers and team members, despite limited state support for public education, work incredibly hard to provide our students with the education they need and deserve.

To truly engage our students and prepare them to maximize their life opportunities takes more than local school teams giving their all. It also requires support from our community, including corporate partners who know what employers need and who can provide resources.

The extensive needs of our students, along with inadequate funding for schools, means there is often no discretionary funding to invest in innovative resources like STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) centers.

Those provide our students and teachers with fun and engaging learning experiences as well as early opportunities that introduce our students to the exciting world of STEM and prepare them for higher education opportunities and the chance to move into successful careers in the future.

The U.S. Department of Commerce reports jobs in STEM industries growing at six times the rate of others, yet 2.4 million technical positions went unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates as recently as 2018.

STEM careers also command higher wages, earning 29% more than non-STEM careers. This is especially important for Oklahoma families who struggle to get by in a state where the median household income of $54,449 ranks in the bottom 15th percentile nationwide.

Devon Energy, a leading oil and natural gas production company, has been working with the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation to close this gap across the country by placing state-of-the art STEM centers in elementary schools.

When the company recently merged with WPX, it approached Tulsa Public Schools and the Foundation for Tulsa Schools about placing STEM centers in 47 elementary schools throughout Tulsa.

Devon’s gift will expand access to hands-on STEM learning experiences to thousands of children and give our wonderful teachers valuable tools, which will have a positive impact for generations to come. In these new learning spaces, Tulsa children will learn the basics of computer coding as they program and direct robots.

They will imagine and bring to life nearly anything they want with 3-D printers. They will learn through tinkering and build confidence in their ability to solve problems.

These school-based centers will complement the district’s work with Discovery Lab and the Tulsa Public Schools STEM Center opening there for elementary students.

The timing of Devon’s investment also perfectly aligns with Tulsa voters’ recent support of secondary STEM education projects in the 2021 bond for Tulsa Public Schools.

Collaborative efforts like this one — bringing together community members, corporations, and nonprofits — have the potential to transform teaching and learning in our city.

We do not yet know the wonderful ideas that our students will develop that will change the world, but we do know that all of our future world-changers benefit when we come together to support our schools.

By investing in STEM education, Devon is investing in Tulsa’s children, tomorrow’s workforce and our state’s future.

The time is now to invest in STEM education and plan for Oklahoma’s long-term economic prosperity.

Rick Muncrief is the president and CEO of Devon Energy. Deborah Gist is the superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools.

Featured video:

Aug. 9, 2021 video. TPS superintendent Deborah Gist addressed media about COVID-19 concerns during a Zoom call

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