Category Archives: STEM

CareerTech Conversations – Tonja Norwood, STEM Program Manager

STEM Program Manager Tonja Norwood sat down with Russell Ray to tell us how CareerTech student programs like TSA (Technology Student Association) foster an interest in STEM careers from an early age. Through these programs and related competitions, the CareerTech system is helping meet the job demand in the varied world of STEM careers.

CareerTech Left Out of Workforce Discussion

By Brent Haken

Acknowledging missed opportunities to lure new businesses to Oklahoma, state leaders are confronting the state’s shortage of skilled workers with plans to explore and overhaul the way we deliver and fund workforce development in Oklahoma.

We agree that more should be done to meet the state’s demand for highly skilled workers.

Enrollments within Oklahoma’s CareerTech System totaled 446,940 in fiscal 2022, and membership in Oklahoma CareerTech student organizations such as FFA and FCCLA has soared to an all-time high of 97,385.

Yet, Oklahoma can’t keep up with demand for skilled workers for high-growth industries. The waiting lists for training programs at many of the state’s 29 CareerTech technology centers remain insufferably long, despite higher enrollments amid stagnant state funding.

Oklahoma CareerTech has been training students of all ages for rewarding careers for more than 100 years and is well positioned to help meet the labor demands of Oklahoma’s growing economy. We think Oklahoma CareerTech can and should play a starring role in the state’s efforts to attract high-tech industries and provide highly trained workers.

However, we are disappointed and surprised that Oklahoma CareerTech has been excluded from a state task force, a workforce commission and a new select committee charged with reviewing and restructuring workforce development in the state. Oklahoma is regularly recognized by other states for having one of the best CareerTech systems in the nation.

Through an alliance of teachers, administrators and business owners, we think Oklahoma CareerTech has a lot to offer to the state’s plan to create a workforce solution and should have a seat at the table for these important discussions.

Since becoming an independent state agency in 1968, Oklahoma CareerTech has built a reputation for pursuing innovative ideas that break from tradition and the accepted paradigm.

Despite an expansion of career-based curriculums, the state and nation are facing an era of chronic skills shortages, the result of rapid automation, digital transformation and a workforce exodus of retiring baby boomers. Oklahoma companies are dealing with a growing talent problem, one that has the potential to become a strategic bottleneck.

Oklahoma CareerTech has been reaching more students with customized training developed in cooperation with Oklahoma businesses. Matching the talent with the needs of businesses can be complicated. That’s where CareerTech comes in.

Businesses haven’t been able to hire enough people with the right skills because the skills just keep changing. A strategy for upskilling is vital to the future of every business.

Our ability to respond quickly to changing workforce needs and bring innovation to Oklahoma classrooms is core to CareerTech’s mission.  We have a long track record of breaking down barriers and building bridges between secondary schools, postsecondary schools and business and industry. This is the tenet behind career and technology education.

Because of its experience and long history of helping Oklahomans find rewarding careers, Oklahoma CareerTech should have a leading voice in the state’s discussions to improve workforce development. Right now, CareerTech is noticeably absent from several proposals to review and restructure the current system.

The state’s decision-makers should be fully informed about the potential growth of career and technology education in Oklahoma and what it can do to help solve the state’s talent problem. CareerTech has a lot to contribute to the discussion and can lend the expertise needed to craft a workforce solution that works for all Oklahomans.

If you would like to learn more, visit our website at

Brent Haken is the state director of the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.

More Oklahoma Students Than Ever are CTSO Members

Membership in Oklahoma CareerTech student organizations has hit an all-time high.

According to numbers collected earlier this month, 97,385 students are members of Business Professionals of America; DECA; Family, Career and Community Leaders of America; FFA; HOSA; SkillsUSA; and Technology Student Association.

Individual CTSO membership numbers are BPA, 5,997; DECA, 1,555; FCCLA, 17,174; FFA, 29,240; HOSA, 6,738; SkillsUSA, 15,544; and TSA, 21,137.

Additionally, the Oklahoma chapter of National Technical Honor Society reported 3,084 members to date, although some high schools and technology centers have not yet inducted new members this year.

The seven co-curricular CTSOs allow students to learn skills outside the classroom. Students further develop technical skills they will use in their careers, said Paxton Cavin, BPA and DECA state adviser, and also learn other skills necessary for success in their lives and careers: leadership, public speaking, communication, teamwork, time management and critical thinking.

“When students join a CTSO they find a support system in the field they are interested in, opportunities to enhance their leadership skills, connections to industry both in Oklahoma and nationwide and memories to last a lifetime,” she said.

Membership has grown because instructors recognize that CTSOs are an integral part of the curriculum, said Emily Goff, SkillsUSA state adviser. They help students develop skills that will help them in their future careers, she said.

“CTSOs serve as the cornerstone of cultivating tomorrow’s skilled workforce, providing students with an unparalleled platform to explore, develop and excel in their chosen career paths,” said Trevor Lucas, FFA state adviser. “Through hands-on experiences, competitive events and industry collaborations, CTSOs empower students to embrace their passions, harness their potential and ultimately contribute to a thriving, innovative economy.”

Each CTSO is affiliated with a CareerTech program: BPA, business, marketing and information technology education; DECA, marketing education; FCCLA, family and consumer sciences education; FFA, agricultural education; HOSA, health careers education; SkillsUSA, trade and industrial education; and TSA, science, technology, engineering and mathematics education.

NTHS honors excellence in workforce education; students must meet national and local criteria and be invited to join a local chapter.

“CTSOs provide opportunities for students to improve leadership skills, career awareness, decision-making and occupational skills,” said Brent Haken, Oklahoma CareerTech state director. “These students are learning beyond the classroom and preparing for success in the workplace, in education and in life.”

CareerTech Champions

Science Academies Opened Doors to Medical Careers (and Romance) for Recent CareerTech Grads

What do sauerkraut and kombucha have to do with CareerTech? Both the holistic tea and the German cabbage dish involve fermentation, a process Ashley Powers said she learned about in the biomedical sciences program at Red River Technology Center in Duncan, Oklahoma 10 years ago.

Dr. Ashley Watson

Ashley enrolled at the technology center in high school. She wanted to become a doctor, but she was homeschooled and didn’t have access to the hands-on educational experiences that would be available at Red River.

At the tech center, she learned to make sauerkraut and kombucha, which she occasionally makes at home. But that science-based cooking lesson was just one of many life-changing benefits of the biomed program.

Flash forward nearly a decade, and Ashley Powers is now Dr. Ashley Watson. She is a resident physician at Capital Region Medical Center in Jefferson City, Missouri. In 2024, she hopes to complete her residency and receive her board certification.  

She credits Red River for helping her reach her career goals, but she gives additional credit to HOSA, for introducing her to her future husband and medical colleague.

Dr. Tyler Watson

HOSA is a co-curricular organization for students interested in health careers. Ashley’s involvement in that CareerTech student organization at Red River led her to Tyler Watson, then HOSA state president. Their paths hadn’t crossed at school, because Tyler attended Francis Tuttle Technology Center. Ashley was president of her local HOSA chapter, however, and one day she reached out to Tyler for advice.

“She was looking at colleges and wanted to know more about the biology/pre-med program at the University of Oklahoma,” Tyler said. “We started talking, and the rest is history.”

(Well, the rest is science, actually.)

Today, Tyler is completing his medical residency in Missouri, alongside his wife.  Like Ashley, he credits Oklahoma CareerTech for laying the groundwork for his medical career.

In 2013, Tyler was a Putnam City High School student. He said he enrolled in Francis Tuttle’s biosciences and medicine academy because he wanted a challenge. The academy offered that challenge, as well as insight into potential career paths.

“I loved science and I knew I wanted to pursue more rigorous training than what my high school alone could offer,” Tyler said, “but I wasn’t yet committed to a specific career path.”

In their respective programs at separate tech centers, the two received invaluable technical skills as well as life skills. Ashley said Red River prepared her for the rigorous medical training that followed. Her new acquired skill set included public speaking, study skills, and an understanding of experimental design.

“These skills have made my life richer and have made transitions through seasons in my career go more smoothly,” she said.

Tyler also credits CareerTech for his public speaking skills.

“I’m fairly shy by nature,” he said. “I still struggle with public speaking but learning those foundational skills as a high schooler allowed me to compensate for and improve my social interactions over time, giving me confidence to approach intimidating situations.”

Francis Tuttle also helped Tyler become more adaptable, he said. An important life skill for a student and a doctor.

“Learning to adapt early to academic challenges and new situations has made life run more smoothly,” he said.

After graduating from their respective technology centers, the Watsons followed nearly identical higher education paths, eventually receiving their Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degrees from Oklahoma State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.

For Tyler and Ashley, CareerTech was a college-prep experience. But Tyler said for some of their fellow HOSA members, CareerTech was their primary vocational training.

“CareerTech directly and successfully prepared them for a career,” Tyler said. “For all of us, choosing CareerTech showed a dedication to improving skills necessary for a career.”

Ashley’s CareerTech experience offered her the applied learning experience she had wanted as a high schooler.

“CareerTech grads offer employers a spectrum of highly-qualified individuals who have experienced hands-on training beyond what an academic-only setting can provide,” she said. “They are an essential part of today’s workforce.”  

They’ve studied together, worked together and lived together. But even though their education and career paths have been similar, their approaches to medicine are different, according to Tyler. As a result, the two have learned to divide up tasks according to each person’s strengths.

“I’m more mechanically minded and better at administration,” Tyler said, “and Ashley tends to be more holistically minded and better at public relations.”

After the Watsons receive their board certifications, they plan to return to Oklahoma to practice medicine. 

Oklahoma CareerTech Students Gather at State Capitol

Sixty-four Oklahoma CareerTech students met at the state Capitol Feb. 21 to speak to legislators about how career and technology education helps teens prepare for careers and college.

State officers from Oklahoma CareerTech’s seven co-curricular student organizations attended the CareerTech Student Organization Day at the Capitol, visiting with legislators from their districts. Sen. Carri Hicks, D-Oklahoma City, and Rep. John Talley, R-Stillwater, recognized the students in their respective chambers.

“This day is a phenomenal way to connect our legislators with the future leaders of our state,” said Paxton Cavin, state BPA and DECA adviser at Oklahoma CareerTech. “By meeting state officers from each of the CTSOs our legislators are able to witness the positive impact CareerTech has on students from all around the state, in various fields of study, in K-12 schools and technology centers. CTSOs are changing lives on a daily basis, and Oklahoma is powered by one of the best CTSO support systems, Oklahoma CareerTech.”

For some students, like Maricela De Leon-Barrios, this was their first time to visit the Capitol.

De Leon-Barrios, a Metro Technology Centers pre-nursing student and state HOSA officer, said she was nervous and excited about the visit. She hoped to get the message out to legislators about how CTSOs teach students leadership skills and help them plan their futures, she said.

The high school junior plans to be a nurse practitioner and said her time in HOSA taught her nursing skills and helped her overcome her fear of learning new things.

The students also heard from Oklahoma CareerTech State Director Brent Haken and Oklahoma Association for Career and Technical Education Executive Director Skye McNiel before meeting with their legislators.

“It’s very important to share the importance of CareerTech,” McNiel told the students. “We are worth investing in because it’s an investment into these kids.”

CTSOs give students opportunities for personal growth and scholastic achievement, as well as the chance to develop skills in public speaking, planning and organizing. Members work on various community projects, competitive events and leadership activities and meet other students who share similar interests.

In FY22, more than 95,000 Oklahoma students were members of one of the seven co-curricular CTSOs: Business Professionals of America; DECA; Family, Career and Community Leaders of America; FFA; HOSA; SkillsUSA; and Technology Student Association.

Women in Aviation

More women are joining the aviation and aerospace industry. They are astronauts, pilots, maintenance technicians, engineers, air traffic controllers and business owners. In this video on Oklahoma’s aerospace industry, we interviewed several women who are working in the industry or pursuing a career in aerospace. Here are their stories.

About Oklahoma CareerTech

The Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education provides leadership and resources and assures standards of excellence for a comprehensive statewide system of career and technology education. The system offers programs and services in 29 technology center districts operating on 60 campuses, 391 PK-12 school districts, 15 Skills Centers campuses that include three juvenile facilities and 32 adult education and family literacy providers.

The agency is governed by the State Board of Career and Technology Education and works closely with the State Department of Education and the State Regents for Higher Education to provide a seamless educational system for all Oklahomans.

Oklahoma CareerTech Continues Growth

The Oklahoma CareerTech System continues to grow as it offers educational programs to Oklahomans of all ages.

The CareerTech System is celebrating CareerTech Education Month in February. Gov. Kevin Stitt recently issued a proclamation declaring this month as Career and Technical Education Appreciation Month in Oklahoma.

“We strive every day to provide students with skills demanded by the labor market in Oklahoma,” said CareerTech State Director Brent Haken. “Bringing innovation to Oklahoma education is core to Oklahoma CareerTech’s mission to help students explore their interests and businesses meet their workforce needs.”

In Oklahoma, enrollment in CareerTech programs is up across the board, and memberships in CareerTech student organizations such as FFA and HOSA rose 20% in FY 2022 to 95,390 members. The increase in enrollments and CTSO memberships, Haken said, reflect a growing realization of the value of a CareerTech education and the need for curricula that emphasize career readiness.

“CareerTech programs and student organizations are designed to simultaneously provide students skills demanded in the labor market while preparing them for postsecondary degrees,” Haken said. “In addition to specific career-oriented classes, students are offered opportunities that include internships, apprenticeships and in-school programs aimed at fostering work readiness.”

Oklahoma CareerTech achievements in the past year include being named a CyberPatriot Center of Excellence by the Air Force Association’s CyberPatriot program in May. Participation in the Oklahoma CyberPatriot program has more than doubled under CareerTech’s leadership.

CareerTech began a partnership with Express Employment Professionals and the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development to create more work-based learning opportunities for students. Students in the program are employed by Express and serve as contract employees for worksite employers, reducing liability for employers and opening more opportunities for students.

CareerTech also launched Get Skilled Now, an online platform that allows students and employers to find each other for work-based learning opportunities.

Also in the past year, Oklahoma CareerTech received $8.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to expand programs to address the state’s nursing workforce shortage, $5 million to create a program to train broadband infrastructure installation workers and $6.2 million to expand its truck driver training program. CareerTech awarded $4.5 million to schools, technology centers and educators in lottery grants and scholarships.

CareerTech serves nearly half a million students through a network of 391 school districts, 29 technology centers, 15 skills centers and 32 adult education and family literacy providers. CareerTech also serves Oklahomans through its business and industry programs.

Enrollment in the 29 technology center districts was 298,675 in FY 2022. Enrollment in CareerTech courses in PK-12 schools totaled 127,875 in FY 2022, with 83,580 students in ninth through 12th grades enrolled in CareerTech classes.

In FY 2022, more than 95,000 students participated in CareerTech’s seven co-curricular CTSOs: Business Professionals of America, DECA, Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, FFA, HOSA, SkillsUSA and Technology Student Association.

More than 8,900 people enrolled in adult education and family literacy classes offered by 32 providers around Oklahoma; the courses help adults become literate, earn their high school equivalencies and obtain the skills necessary for employment.

The Skills Centers School System enrolled 1,045 adult and juvenile offenders in FY 2022, and more than 95% of those who completed training found jobs with an average hourly wage of $14.64.

In addition to teaching individuals through technology centers, skills centers, PK-12 schools and adult education and family literacy programs, Oklahoma CareerTech also provides customized training and other services to companies in the state to help them increase profitability.

In FY 2022, CareerTech served 6,671 companies through entrepreneurial development, firefighter training, customized industry, safety training, adult and career development, training for industry and OkAPEX Accelerators. The TIP program helped companies locate in Oklahoma and provided training for 2,941 new jobs, and OkAPEX helped state companies secure 1,775 federal, state, local and tribal government contracts valued at $392,442,455.

Oklahoma CareerTech to Issue Digital Badges

Oklahoma CareerTech students have a new way to let employers know about the credentials they’ve earned.

CareerTech is partnering with Credly to provide students with digital versions of their credentials in a process called badging.

“A badge is a digital representation of a certificate; it’s a more verifiable, secure method,” said Jennifer Palacio, CareerTech Testing Center assessment manager.

Oklahoma CareerTech students are already earning these credentials; the digital badging initiative will simply give them an easier way to share their achievements with potential employers, Palacio explained.

“It’s a way to prove the legitimate certificates a person has earned,” she said.

Once a student earns a credential within an approved Oklahoma CareerTech program, the instructor enters the information into the CareerTech Information Management System. Once a month, CareerTech will gather all the information entered in the past month to issue digital badges through Credly.

Students who receive badges can create accounts so they can keep all their badges — even ones issued by others, such as Microsoft or Certiport — in one place. They’ll also be able to download badges and attach them to emails or documents, send them directly to employers or share them on social media platforms.

“If you share a badge, when someone clicks on it, your information comes up,” Palacio said. “It links to our website.”

Students will also be able to access Credly’s labor market insights and see job openings across the country for people who possess those credentials. They’ll be able to find out about salary ranges and types of jobs that require the credentials they’ve earned, Palacio said.

CareerTech will be able to track how many digital badges have been issued, claimed and shared, which will give the system information that will help ensure its programs are aligned with industry needs.

More information about the badging initiative can be found on the Oklahoma CareerTech website at

Lee Denney Appointed Interim Chief of Staff of Oklahoma CareerTech

The Oklahoma State Board of Career and Technology Education on Thursday approved the appointment of Lee Denney as the interim chief of staff of Oklahoma CareerTech.

Denney served as the Oklahoma CareerTech interim state director from February 2022 until January 2023, when Brent Haken took the reins as state director. She will serve as interim chief of staff until someone is hired to fill that position, which has been vacant since July.

“I want to thank Lee Denney for her strong, charismatic leadership during this time of transition at Oklahoma CareerTech,” Haken said. “Her efforts as interim director have strengthened CareerTech education in Oklahoma, and we are grateful that she will continue her work to support CareerTech as interim chief of staff.”

Denney, a resident of Cushing, served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 2004 to 2016, representing District 33. She served on various committees, including appropriations and budget; higher education career technology; energy; economic development and tourism; arts and culture, as chairman; and banking, as vice chairman. She also served as chairman of the appropriations and budget subcommittee on common education.

After leaving the House, Denney served as department head of the veterinary technology program at Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City in 2016-17 and then as Oklahoma state director for rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 2017 to 2021.

“I am so grateful to the leaders and staff of Oklahoma CareerTech for their tremendous support in managing and maintaining the many CareerTech programs and services offered to Oklahoma students and businesses,” Denney said. “CareerTech is vital to workforce development in the state, and I look forward to working with all stakeholders in advancing its mission as interim chief of staff.”

Denney earned both a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics and a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from Oklahoma State University.

In addition to her work as a veterinarian, Denney worked as a recruitment coordinator for the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and taught anatomy and physiology at Central Technology Center in Drumright.

Denney serves on the boards of directors of the Oklahoma Academy for State Goals, the Oklahoma Public Resource Center, Friends for Folks, the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women and Payne County Youth Services.

About Oklahoma CareerTech

The Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education provides leadership and resources and assures standards of excellence for a comprehensive statewide system of career and technology education. The system offers programs and services in 29 technology center districts operating on 60 campuses, 391 PK-12 school districts, 15 Skills Centers campuses that include three juvenile facilities and 32 adult education and family literacy providers.

The agency is governed by the State Board of Career and Technology Education and works closely with the State Department of Education and the State Regents for Higher Education to provide a seamless educational system for all Oklahomans.

Ninth CareerTech State Director Begins Official Duties

Oklahoma CareerTech State Director Brent Haken began official duties today.

Haken was named to the position in November by the Oklahoma State Board of Career and Technology Education. He is the ninth director in ODCTE’s history.

“I am honored to begin serving the state of Oklahoma in meeting the educational, training and workforce development needs of our state,” Haken said. “Oklahoma has the nation’s premier system for career and technical education due to a foundation laid by passionate and dedicated Oklahomans. As an educator and a product of the Oklahoma CareerTech System, I understand the opportunity we have in unlocking the state’s potential for meeting the workforce needs of Oklahoma businesses and providing pathways to rewarding careers for Oklahoma students. Empowering people through education moves Oklahoma forward.”

Lee Denney, who has been serving as the CareerTech interim state director since February 2022, will remain at Oklahoma CareerTech as interim chief of staff.

“Brent Haken is a leader with vision and innovative ideas,” Denney said. “He will be able to lead Oklahoma CareerTech forward as we continue to provide skilled workers for Oklahoma industries.”

Haken comes to Oklahoma CareerTech from Morrison Public Schools, where he served as superintendent since 2019.

He began his educational career teaching agricultural education in Wellston and Stillwater before moving to Morrison, where he became elementary assistant principal and special education director in July 2015 and high school principal in July 2016. He also served as testing coordinator.

Haken received the 2022 Superintendents Chairman’s Award from the Oklahoma Youth Expo and was the Oklahoma Association of Superintendents District 4 Superintendent of the Year for 2022. He is a member of the Oklahoma State Professional Education Council and the Cooperative Council for Secondary Administrators.

He has been a member of the Oklahoma Career Technology Master Teacher Committee, the National Association of Agricultural Educators and the Association of Career Technical Educators and served on the board and as vice president of the Oklahoma Agricultural Education Teachers Association.

Haken earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Central Oklahoma and a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education from Oklahoma State University.

About Oklahoma CareerTech

The Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education provides leadership and resources and assures standards of excellence for a comprehensive statewide system of career and technology education. The system offers programs and services in 29 technology center districts operating on 60 campuses, 391 PK-12 school districts, 15 Skills Centers campuses that include three juvenile facilities and 32 adult education and family literacy providers.

The agency is governed by the State Board of Career and Technology Education and works closely with the State Department of Education and the State Regents for Higher Education to provide a seamless educational system for all Oklahomans.

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