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High-Tech Higher Ed: OSU Polytech prepares graduates for in-demand careers

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Media Contact: Mack Burke | Associate Director of Media Relations | 405-744-5540 |

OSU’s Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Okmulgee institutions have faithfully served the state for a combined 164 years offering technical programs. In December, the OSU system launched a statewide initiative — OSU Polytech — to address Oklahoma’s high-tech workforce needs. Now under the umbrella of OSU Polytech, OSU System’s workforce-driven technical academic programs are expanding educational access and bolstering Oklahoma’s economy and workforce.

Oklahoma has a pressing need for a high-tech workforce to fuel economic growth. With support from Oklahoma industry leaders and government officials, the OSU Polytech initiative addresses the immediate demand for specialized talent and through innovative STEM-based curriculum while offering students across the state greater access to flexible learning opportunities and real-world learning experiences.

“What’s so exciting about what OSU is doing is they’re not just thinking one step ahead, they’re thinking 10 steps ahead when it comes to Polytech,” Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell said.

OSU already has over 3,700 students enrolled in 60 polytechnic education programs in person and online across the system.

“OSU is the state’s undisputed leader in advanced technology education,” said OSU President Kayse Shrum. “OSU Polytech is reflective of our land-grant mission to serve the state, our longstanding tradition of service and our commitment to a student-focused approach to higher education. As the state’s largest university system, OSU is uniquely positioned to ensure that Oklahoma is open for business in the fast-moving areas of science and technology.”

High-Tech Step-Up

Polytech caters not only to recent high school graduates but also to individuals who entered the workforce directly after high school and are now seeking career advancement.

Recognizing that full-time workers may have limited time for professional development, university leaders saw an opportunity to diversify program formats to offer flexible learning experiences.

OSU Polytech offers courses focused on developing career critical skills through technical programs, which can result in micro-credentials that can stack into traditional degree programs, in areas such as aerospace engineering, manufacturing, energy, health care, IT and supply chain management.

High school students talk to Oklahoma State University aerospace experts at Aero-Student Day, which is held at Paycom Center in Oklahoma City, home of the Thunder.
High school students talk to Oklahoma State University aerospace experts at Aero-Student Day, which is held at Paycom Center in Oklahoma City, home of the Thunder.

Micro-credentials are credentials awarded after completion of certain courses or activities focused on a specific career discipline and may be credit or non-credit. These credentials enhance employability, potentially increasing compensation for students as skills and credentials grow.

The aim is for students to stack these credentials while steadily progressing towards certificates and degrees, with many transitioning directly into the workforce upon completion.

Dr. Ronna Vanderslice, OSU-OKC interim provost and vice provost of academic affairs of the OSU System, said each step in a student’s journey through the OSU Polytech system is geared toward helping them achieve career success.

“We are excited for the OSU Polytech initiative and its potential to increase the number of students in technical programs, so we can meet the needs of students and employers,” Vanderslice said. “By partnering with employers in the state of Oklahoma, we provide our students with unique experiences. Graduates from our technical programs are employed at a higher rate and have higher salaries than their counterparts.”

OSU’s Institute of Technology, located in Okmulgee, has a rich history of collaborating with the private sector, customizing its programs to align with industry needs for over seven decades.

To that end, an impressive 90% of its graduates secure employment prior to graduation.

What sets OSU Polytech technical programs apart is their focus on applied learning, paired with hands-on experiences. General education courses are integrated with experiential learning opportunities, offering students immersive learning environments to develop skills relevant to their chosen field.

The training mirrors real-world job tasks, utilizing high-tech equipment. A student is not simply learning about robotics; they’re learning how to build robots and program robots with their own hands, Vanderslice said.

A Bigger Footprint

A major goal of OSU Polytech is to expand educational access across the state. One way it aims to achieve this goal is by providing new educational pathways geared toward providing students with in-demand microcredentials, certifications and skills.

OSU Polytech also aims to tap into and expand OSU’s extensive physical footprint across the state.

“We want to take what we’ve done in Okmulgee and expand that in the Tulsa and Oklahoma City campuses and through online and hybrid opportunities,” said Kyle Wray, OSU senior vice president of system affairs.

OSU Polytech is set to have a presence across the OSU System through purpose-built and customized educational spaces. Leveraging OSU Extension’s presence in all 77 counties, OSU Polytech plans to establish and foster partnerships for training initiatives across the entire state, including rural areas.

OSU Ph.D. student Samarjith Biswas works on a School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering project to make jet engines less noisy.
OSU Ph.D. student Samarjith Biswas works on a School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering project to make jet engines less noisy.

Recently, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and OSU Polytech through the OSU-OKC campus formed a partnership to promote an advanced workforce education work/ study initiative: The Federation for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) program.

As a successful national hybrid academic/training program, FAME is designed to help students prepare for highly skilled, globally competitive jobs.

“OKC FAME is an ideal fit for OSU Polytech, which encompasses applied technical education programming in Oklahoma across the OSU System,” Wray said. “Programs such as OKC FAME are an excellent way to bring together the best from the classroom and the ‘real world’ to produce students who are ready to work day one following graduation.”

The OKC FAME program will begin this fall on the OSU-OKC campus. The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber is the hub organization acting as the convening partner with FAME USA nationally and recruiting local companies to join the effort.

Through the program, students attend OSU-OKC for classroombased learning twice a week and work off-campus for at least 24 hours weekly with a sponsoring employer, providing hands-on training and paying a minimum of $16 per hour. Upon completion of the two-year program, students will have an associate degree from OSU-OKC and certification as an advanced manufacturing technician.

“As a chamber, we are committed to helping our employers, especially in manufacturing, find new ways to access skilled talent,” said Christy Gillenwater, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “OKC FAME is an incredible asset in our arsenal to bolster the economic growth of Greater Oklahoma City, and we cannot wait to see how this program grows in the coming years.”

OKC FAME has already partnered with manufacturers IDEX Energy - Advanced Flow Solutions, Climate Control Group, Canoo and OMADA International that will employ OKC FAME students.

“OKC FAME and OSU-OKC are offering an innovative intersection of education and paid training to help students earn an associate degree and the certifications needed to land jobs in a modern manufacturing workforce,” Vanderslice said. “This partnership with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and a growing number of outstanding Oklahoma industrial companies is helping Oklahoma address its shortage of high-tech workers and spark a revolution of hiring and economic growth.”

Symbiotic Partnerships

OSU Polytech is pursuing innovative new ways to better serve students. In doing so, it’s also filling the talent pipeline in Oklahoma with highly skilled workers capable of meeting industry demands.

Applied hands-on experiences are critical to ensuring students are trained with employer expectations. One of the best ways for students to gain experience is by working in internship and apprenticeship roles, Vanderslice said.

“We hire experts in automation, instrumentation, data analytics and geology, and we also employ many engineers,” said Trey Lowe, chief technology officer of Devon Energy. “Finding people with that knowledge and those technical skills has been challenging for several years. Oklahoma State University is working to address this problem through OSU Polytech by collaborating with the industry to customize degrees and programs, from Ph.D. to technical ones.”

Through intentional collaborative efforts with business leaders, private sector partners and faculty, OSU Polytech is pinpointing emerging workforce trends and needs. These efforts are driving program curriculum considerations to ensure OSU’s applied learning opportunities are in line with industry demands.

“As a land-grant institution, OSU has an obligation to help lead the state’s response to these workforce challenges,” Wray said. “We are committed to collaborating with industry partners, state leaders, state regents, K-12, CareerTech and workforce-focused organizations such as the Oklahoma State Chamber and Oklahoma Business Roundtable to meet this pressing challenge.”

OSU Polytech is set to host a series of roundtables throughout Oklahoma in partnership with industry with the goal of gathering industry feedback to design impactful education and training programs and work-based learning opportunities to develop a highly skilled, career ready workforce for Oklahoma. Industry partners include Cox Communications, NORDAM, and Saint Francis Health System.

“To fuel our growth, we rely on the right talent and the right people. Supply chain and logistics is a prime example. To sustain our business and cater to our customers, we need the right talent,” said Shane Wharton, president of Love’s Travel Stops. “We strive to source as much talent as possible from our state. With OSU’s focus on producing job-ready talent, it’s a mutually beneficial situation. Ideally, these individuals will seamlessly integrate into our workforce when we hire them, thanks to the collaboration with OSU Polytech.”

Photos by: Gary Lawson and Phil Shockley

Story by: Sydney Trainor | STATE Magazine

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