The vision of Oklahoma FFA is to provide the next generation of leaders who will change the world, and Arapaho-Butler High School FFA member Katie Edelen embodies that vision.
May 12, 2023, was a big day for Edelen. The high school senior walked across the stage to receive her diploma just hours after Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed her Orange Alert bill into law.
While her friends were lounging by the pool or sleeping in last summer, Edelen was working on an original piece of legislation that would later become House Bill 1546.
The bill, drafted by Edelen as part of a Farm Bureau summer camp, would notify residents about escaped inmates in their area. It is a very personal issue for Edelen, whose aunt, Jamie Allen, was abducted by two escaped inmates in 2006.
Allen survived the abduction, but her niece recalls hearing the horror story many times growing up. If her aunt had known the inmates were at large that day, the traumatic event might have been avoided.
Edelen was excited when she heard the Orange Alert bill received the governor’s approval.
“Maybe this law can save a life,” she said.
The passage of the new law gave Edelen’s aunt even more reason to celebrate her niece’s high school accomplishments.
“Katie Sue has brought a ray of sunshine to a dark situation,” Allen said.
By the time HB1546 takes effect Nov. 1, Edelen will be a freshman at Northern Oklahoma College, where she plans to play basketball.
“Oklahoma BPA seized every opportunity while in Anaheim for the 2023 National Leadership Conference. Not only did our Oklahoma BPA members perform well in their competitive events, but we also had a notable presence in the leadership opportunities and community service efforts that were offered,” Cavin said. “Our association was one of the few to be involved in every student division including middle level, secondary and postsecondary, which is a direct reflection of the Oklahoma CareerTech System.”
In competitions, Oklahoma had five first place secondary winners and 17 first place postsecondary winners. The state chapter also had four top 10 middle level finalists, 19 top 10 secondary finalists and 77 top 10 postsecondary finalists.
Oklahoma BPA came home with the traveling postsecondary cup.
The chapter also had 16 Ambassador Torch Award winners, eight BPA Cares qualifying chapters, 14 National Quality chapters and one bronze level Presidential Volunteer Service Award winner.
In addition, 37 advisers were recognizes for five or more years of service.
BPA is one of seven CareerTech student organizations affiliated with CareerTech programs. It is affiliated with business and information technology education. The other six are DECA (marketing education), FCCLA (family and consumer sciences education), FFA (agricultural education), HOSA (health careers education), SkillsUSA (trade and industrial education) and Technology Student Association (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
Oklahoma Collegiate DECA members returned from the International Career Development Conference in Orlando, Florida, with several finalist honors and a new international officer.
Maryam Amin, a freshman at the University of Oklahoma, was elected to the 2023-24 Collegiate DECA Executive Council as vice president. She is Oklahoma’s first Collegiate DECA international officer.
Amin was a top 10 test taker, top 10 case study performance and finalist in the fashion merchandising and marketing individual case study competition. Other competition finalists were Devesh Lahoti, OU, sales challenge, and Arman Riaz, OU, emerging technology marketing strategies.
In addition, the OU DECA chapter received the Top New Chapter Award.
A member of DECA for three years, Amin co-founded the collegiate chapter at OU and just completed her term as its president. She is majoring in computer science with a minor in marketing.
“I hope to bring in my own diverse perspective to the team,” Amin said. “The business world is often stereotyped to include only a small subset of our population. DECA serves as a gateway to business that encourages diversity and inclusivity.
She added that she hopes to encourage not only diversity of identities, but also diversity of thought, ideas and creativity.
Both Amin and Riaz are Oklahoma DECA high school products; they both attended Edmond Santa Fe High School.
This was the second year an Oklahoma contingent attended the Collegiate DECA International Career Development Conference.
Oklahoma Collegiate DECA is in its second year; 20 students competed at the state level, and four attended and competed at ICDC. All four were from the OU chapter, Oklahoma Collegiate DECA’s newest chapter.
“It is beyond exciting that Oklahoma has made history at each ICDC we have attended since forming our collegiate association, bringing home our inaugural first place award in our first year, and electing Oklahoma’s first Collegiate DECA executive officer in our second year,” said Paxton Cavin, Oklahoma DECA adviser at the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education. “My hope is that Oklahoma Collegiate DECA continues to grow and that these successes show postsecondary students all around the state, in technology centers, colleges and universities that Oklahoma DECA has opportunities outside of high school that are aimed at preparing Oklahoma students for future success in the workforce.”
DECA is one of seven CareerTech student organizations affiliated with CareerTech programs. It is affiliated with marketing education. The other six are FCCLA (family and consumer sciences education), FFA (agricultural education), SkillsUSA (trade and industrial education), Business Professionals of America (business and information technology education), Technology Student Association (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and HOSA (health careers education).
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.
Thousands of high school students visit the Oklahoma state Capitol each year to learn about state government, including the process of how a bill becomes a law. But very few of those students take their civics lesson as far as FFA member Katie Sue Edelen did.
The Arapaho-Butler High School senior is waiting to hear if a bill she drafted as part of last year’s Capitol Camp, sponsored by Oklahoma Farm Bureau, will become law. Edelen was among a select group of high school juniors and seniors from FFA and 4-H who had the opportunity to write and discuss a piece of legislation about an issue that was important to them.
She created legislation that would create a statewide system known as Orange Alert, which would notify residents if an inmate escapes from a correctional facility within 40 miles of their location. Those opting to receive the notifications would hear an alarm on their cell phones, similar to the Amber Alert and Silver Alert systems.
“An alert would be sent out to everyone in a certain mile radius of the prison,” Edelen said, “so they would be able to take necessary precautions.”
Edelen’s draft caught the attention of Rep. Anthony Moore, R-Clinton, who agreed to sponsor House Bill 1546, which passed unanimously last week. The bill is now being considered by the Senate, authored by Kingfisher Republican Sen. Darcy Jech.
Edelen has a personal interest in the passage of the bill. In 2006, Edelen’s aunt was abducted from her home by two escapees from the Anadarko jail. If the Orange Alert notification system had existed at the time of her abduction, it might have helped Edelen’s family avoid the nightmare that ensued.
Although Edelen was a child at the time, she grew up hearing stories of her aunt’s harrowing escape from her captors. Edelen’s grandmother, Penny Berry, said she is grateful her daughter survived the incident, but her family was forever changed by the dramatic event.
“Katie Sue was a baby,” Berry said. “But she always heard our warnings about how to stay safe and the importance of being aware of your surroundings.”
Rep. Moore said residents who have a prison nearby deserve to be notified immediately if their safety is in danger from an escaped prisoner.
If the bill is approved by the Senate, the bill will then go to the governor for his signature.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.