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Oklahoma STEM Group Collaborates on Workforce Development

Education and industry are working together to train up more workers for jobs in science, technology, engineering and math.

(TNS) — Education, industry and community partners in the Oklahoma City area came together Monday to officially launch an effort to develop the robust STEM workforce needed to grow Oklahoma's economy.

As it stands now, 1,000 new STEM jobs will remain unfilled each year because too few adults in the Oklahoma City area are qualified for the highly specialized science, technology, engineering and mathematics positions, officials said.

The Central Oklahoma STEM Alliance (COSTEMA) — which formed in spring 2015 to address that issue — was recognized Monday as a regional STEM education district in a ceremony in the Blue Room at the state Capitol.

Gov. Mary Fallin praised the alliance members for addressing the critical need for enhanced STEM partnerships.

"One of my top goals over the past couple of years has been to better align our workforce with the skills sets and degrees needed not only for today but for future generations to come," Fallin said.

She said STEM certificates and degrees help Oklahoma grow many important, lucrative industries, including aerospace, energy, agriculture and health care services.

Students who obtain a STEM education have the ability to earn $72,000 annually, twice the average salary for other jobs in Oklahoma, Fallin said.

In the past five years, the number of STEM degrees and certificates awarded has increased 28 percent, she said, "but we still have a lot more work to do."

The governor said Tinker Air Force Base alone could take all the STEM certificates and degree recipients the state produces today.

Oklahoma will need 10 percent more workers with STEM skill sets each year through 2022, she said.

Fallin recognized Adrianne Covington Graham, COSTEMA executive director, and Mark Kinders, vice president for public affairs at the University of Central Oklahoma, for their work to establish the alliance.

"UCO has been a huge driving force for this initiative," Graham said.

UCO President Don Betz said the collaboration among the public K-12 districts, career technology centers and colleges in the Oklahoma City area will help STEM education flow from one level to the next.

"We can move students back and forth when the fit is right," Betz said. "Perhaps she needs to get a technical certificate before she gets her degree."

Oklahoma needs to produce more STEM-trained people not just to fill jobs that exist, but to become entrepreneurs "who take the next step out and create opportunities," he said.

COSTEMA board member Audrey Lee, who is assistant director of health sciences at Francis Tuttle Technology Center, said the district hopes to serve 150,000 K-12 students in the first year.

The work starts with identifying and closing the gaps were students who are underserved in STEM education, Lee said.

Officials said more than 60 members help comprise COSTEMA, including Crooked Oak, Deer Creek, Edmond, Millwood, Oklahoma City, Putnam City and Western Heights public schools.

"Widespread, collaborative support of STEM education and training is a necessary component to ensuring our students are equipped and prepared to pursue a STEM career," Graham said.

©2016 The Oklahoman, distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.