Investment aims to produce more engineers in Oklahoma

Published: Friday, July 23, 2021 By: Journal Record Staff

The rising aerospace industry and others in Oklahoma will generate demand for more than 3,000 new engineers annually in coming years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It has been estimated that more than 400,000 new engineers will be needed annually to meet needs of the nation.

To increase numbers of people entering the profession, Oklahoma Regents for Higher Education have committed $12.6 million to enhance academics at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State universities and pre-engineering programs at other colleges and universities. Their goal also is to spark interest in engineering professions among high school and younger students in the state.

“OSU will work with the other state colleges to develop pre-engineering programs and K-12 STEM programs that introduce Oklahoma’s talented young people to challenging jobs that change the world,” said Paul Tikalsky, dean of the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology at Oklahoma State University, who helped to spearhead the 2020 Engineering Initiative proposal.

In the proposal, Tikalsky stressed the importance of engineering to Oklahoma and how a significant investment could expand the state’s research capabilities, abilities to recruit and retain students, and its abilities to develop numbers of engineers sufficient to meet demands for engineers in aerospace, biomedical, energy and other high-tech industries.

“These are challenges of their lifetime, and it will take their diversity of thought and values to solve them,” Tikalsky said.

Some 64,000 people already are employed in engineering and in engineering management jobs in the state. The field generates billions of dollars annually to benefit the Oklahoma economy.

“It’s great to see Oklahoma supporting our universities in working together to advance our students and ultimately our state’s economy,” said Rick Muncrief, president and CEO of Devon Energy. “We need to continue encouraging top talent development in the state, and the Engineering Initiative will foster the kind of creativity and innovation we need across energy, aerospace, biomedical and other industries.”

The investment will align Oklahoma with states like Texas and Utah that also have realized rising needs for engineers. Initiatives previously launched in some states have resulted in increasing numbers of engineers produced and in tangible economic benefits.

“I am excited to see the investments being made by Oklahoma in engineering degrees and research capacity,” said Jaime McAlpine, president of Chermac Energy Corp., a renewable energy developer and oil and gas engineering firm in Edmond. “This increased funding is a starting block for homegrown talent that can accelerate Oklahoma in research and product development in aerospace and sustainable energy. What future engineers from OSU and other schools in the state can achieve utilizing this additional funding should be substantial.”

Overall, OSU and OU both will receive $5 million in FY2022. The remaining $2.6 million will support pre-engineering and engineering programs at other colleges and universities.

“We thank Gov. (Kevin) Stitt and the Legislature for state support enabling the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to fund several crucial initiatives, including expansion of engineering and other STEM-related programs at our public colleges and universities,” Chancellor Glen D. Johnson said. “Our higher education system remains committed to investing in programs that increase student recruitment, retention and graduation rates in engineering and STEM fields to address Oklahoma’s evolving business and industry needs.”

This story originally ran on the JournalRecord.com. 

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