OSUIT and OSU-Tulsa host event to advocate for underrepresented individuals in the workforce
Wednesday, September 13, 2023
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Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology and OSU-Tulsa hosted local employers, industry leaders and community organizations on Sept. 5 for a wide-ranging discussion about the issues faced by underrepresented and justice-involved individuals when seeking employment.
Featured speakers from Women in Recovery, ProsperOK, Green Country Workforce System and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration shared statistics, experiences and personal stories with those gathered at OSU-Tulsa’s Conference Center.
Oklahoma House of Representatives Minority Leader Cyndi Munson, who serves on the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women, also attended and shared brief remarks. Munson commented on the power of similar events to enhance the lives of justice-involved people in Oklahoma, the state that currently incarcerates women at the third highest rate in the world. The economic and societal benefits of employing individuals seeking a second chance were a theme throughout the event.
“Today, we come together as a community of changemakers, united by a shared vision of a more workforce that reflects the true tapestry of our society,” said Anna Hearn, grant writer and workforce advancement specialist for OSUIT Workforce and Economic Development.
“We must acknowledge that systemic biases, historical inequalities and deeply ingrained barriers have too often hindered the full participation of underrepresented groups in the workforce. Our task today is to shed light on these challenges and to explore strategies that will pave the way for progress.”
Stacy Minihan, a graduate of the OSUIT Fiber Technician Program in Tulsa and Women in Recovery participant, shared that she recently had an offer for a fiber optic technician job rescinded once the company completed a background check and noticed had a felony drug charge on her record.
“I will always be honest about my past, but I don’t want it to continue to define my future,” Minihan said. “I graduated at the top of my class in the fiber optic program, but some companies view people like me, with charges on their background checks, as unemployable. Sometimes I don’t even get the chance to be interviewed because I disclosed my past with the criminal legal system on their application.”
OSUIT and OSU-Tulsa have partnered together to bring select degree and certificate programs for high-demand job skills to the Tulsa campus, including OSUIT’s eight-week Fiber Optic Technician training program. Craig Freeman, interim vice provost of OSU-Tulsa and dean of the OSU College of Professional Studies, touted the excellence of the students and faculty in these programs.
“I think the joy for us at OSU-Tulsa in working with OSUIT is that we are eliminating barriers,” he said, then specifically addressed employers in the audience. “My promise to you — and I say this because I’ve had the chance to work with the fantastic people at OSUIT — is if you find a graduate that is not work ready, let us know and we will fix that. If there’s a skill you think one of our graduates doesn’t have, we will work diligently to make sure that that is not an issue for that employee and for other employees coming in the future.”
Despite the challenges, Minihan — and many other dedicated students like her — are determined to make a better life for themselves.
“I’m so grateful for both OSUIT and Women in Recovery for this opportunity of a lifetime to pursue my career in the fiber optic industry," Minihan said. "I will not stop until I know I’ve succeeded in my goals.”
For more information on upcoming fiber technology course enrollments, visit osuit.edu/workforce/fiber-optic-training.php.