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I was bitten by the aviation bug at an early age. Ever since I can remember, all I have ever wanted to do was work in the aviation industry.

I was fortunate enough to have a support system in place that allowed me to pursue my dream of a career in aeronautics. I now feel it is part of my responsibility as president of Spartan College to instill that same passion in others.

Just last month, Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology was ranked in the top 10 of two-year colleges in the nation with the highest value added with respect to occupational earnings power.

This ranking comes from the Brookings Institution, a private, nonprofit organization that provides top-quality research and practical recommendations for policymakers and the public.

This was a significant honor for our school and reinforces what we already know to be true: that Spartan helps our students qualify for good jobs and provides he or she with opportunities to make higher salaries.

This is positive news for a city that boasts aeronautics as one of its largest industries. We are fortunate to retain 40 percent of our graduates in Oklahoma. Yet, we know as a region, we still have much work to do to ensure a robust workforce. Planting the seed of aerospace in the next generation is crucial not only to our region and state, but essential to our national security and economic prosperity.

Research indicates students are making decisions about careers earlier in life than in years past. That means we need to capture our future workforce at a much younger age.

One of the measurements considered in the ranking was our high score on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) orientations. Recently, STEM education has become a buzzword of sorts, as industries such as aerospace realize the extreme importance of these disciplines to ensure a highly-skilled workforce.

In fact, the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry recommended “the nation immediately reverse the decline in and promote the growth of a scientifically and technologically trained U.S. aerospace workforce …” adding that “the breakdown of our intellectual and industrial capacity is a threat to national security and our capability to continue as a world leader.”

While our traditional K-12 educational system is challenged for staff and funding, it is imperative we think outside the box for innovative programs and partnerships to bridge the gap. It will require government, industry, labor and academia to work together to effectively make a difference.

Collaborations such as the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance, which has more than 60 partners participating, are helping inspire and nurture the next generation of science, innovators and engineers.

Spartan is a member of the STEM Education Coalition, which represents a unified voice in advocating for policies to improve STEM education at all levels.

These are just a smattering of the types of programs in which we as a community must invest in order to reverse the tide of a workforce shortage.

Spartan recently hosted a two-day field trip for Union third-graders, which focused on STEM education as the children participated in hands-on activities related to different aspects of aviation. The students spent time building and flying model planes, simulating air traffic control and conducting inspections of aircrafts, all while learning key principles of STEM education.

If we were able to spark even one student’s interest in aerospace at the age of 10, then in my book, we have succeeded.

If you’re a business owner with STEM-related products or STEM-oriented services, I encourage you to make a difference in our future workforce by introducing students today to what she or he can become tomorrow.

In short, the more students who get bitten by the aviation bug, the better off our country will be.

Ryan Goertzen is the presidentof Spartan College of Aeronauticsand Technology.


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