Plans were announced at a recent Marathon Oil event at which Marathon presented a $25,000 donation to the foundation for use in expanding and enhancing educational and vocational opportunities for local students.
Recently representatives of the foundation met with the superintendents of all four Karnes County school districts, representatives of Marathon Oil and ConnocoPhillips, as well as a representative of Coastal Bend College with the goal of working together to plan two new educational and training programs for local students.
Foundation board member Eric Opiela said he is very excited about two new programs that are in the early planning phases.
This summer, a new summer camp called the Karnes County STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) Initiative will happen for the first time with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math for local students between the ages of kindergarten and eighth grade.
“It is meant to spur interest in engineering and math fields,” Opiela explained. “Karnes County isn’t known for producing a lot of graduates who pursue careers in those fields.”
“I want more students to go to college,” Opiela said, noting that only five of the 35 students in his own graduating class went to attend a four-year college after graduation. “We need to produce more college ready seniors, and that begins at the elementary school level.”
Opiela said the STEM camp will be a week-long experience for local students and a training program for the camp has been identified and will be utilized to help get local kids excited about math, engineering and technology.
At the conclusion of the camp which is set to happen in July, 2013, a community-wide fair is planned where campers will have the opportunity to present the results of their activities and projects.
Another program the foundation is working hard to make happen, is establishing what the group is calling the Eagle Ford Technology Center.
“Beginning this fall, for high school students, we are going to begin the freshman level courses in a four-year vocational training program that will lead to a certificate of completion from Coastal Bend College in oilfield technologies,” Opiela said. “The students that graduate from this four-year program will essentially have jobs waiting for them in Karnes County to work in oilfield operations.”
Opiela explained that the program is being developed in conjunction with the oilfield industry.
“The first two years are basic geologic science and safety courses,” Opiela explained. “That will begin this fall and it is going to be for all four school districts in the county.”
Location of the classes will rotate among the four different school districts, so that the first semester is on one campus, and then for the second semester, will move to another local school campus.
“The role of the foundation is to facilitate this, provide some of the funding, and help get it off the ground,” Opiela said. “The actual implementation is up to the superintendents.”
“What is really exciting about it is that it is going to be shared among the local school districts,” Opiela said. “I don’t think our school districts have ever worked together in a fashion like this to have a countywide program for students in all four school districts. But this is what we are going to need to do, more and more, going into the future.”
Opiela said that energy companies are saying that as the development of energy resources below Karnes County expands, they will need employees who live in Karnes County, and know the territory. In many ways they said this would be a much better alternative to bringing in workers and facing the challenge of finding local housing for those workers.
“This is a 25 to 50-year-long trend,” Opiela said, noting that it is expected to take 20 years to drill out the Eagle Ford Shale, and after that, there are other shales beneath the Eagle Ford waiting to be explored and developed.
Opiela said he his most excited about the kinds of opportunities that this will present for all of the people of Karnes County.
“I think the benefit of the boom has been unevenly distributed across the county,” Opiela said. “If you don’t own land, or you aren’t involved with the oilfield industry, all you see is the additional traffic and danger on the roads.”
“This is a tool that will enable children from whatever background and geography... All the students will be together in these classes.”
Opiela said the sky is the limit when it comes to career opportunities available in the energy industry, with many skilled positions paying $60,000 per year, $80,000 per year, and beyond.
“This is not meant to perpetuate minimum wage jobs,” Opiela said. “These are jobs you can raise a family on.”
The second two years of the four-year program, Opiela explained, will include “hands on” training with actual oilfield equipment at a new training center located in Karnes County. The foundation hopes to utilize an existing building or buildings to bring the training center to life. Under the current plan, oilfield companies would donate equipment and faculty for use at the center, working in partnership with local schools and Coastal Bend College.
The goal is for students to have good paying jobs waiting for them at the end of the four-year program, Opiela said. At some point in the future, perhaps several years away, the foundation hopes the training center will be opened up to not just high school students, but to anyone who is hoping to start a career working in the energy industry.
Through the foundation’s efforts, and as a result of the foundation’s non-profit status, Opiela said that all of this can be accomplished at no cost to the local taxpayers.
“These are long term projects,” Opiela said, describing the efforts of the foundation. “We need to work toward fostering this interest in learning for students that will pay dividends when they graduate.”
Marathon Oil’s Eagle Ford Asset Manager Kirk Spilman, who presented the $25,000 donation to the foundation on behalf of Marathon Oil said he is excited to be a part of the beginning phases of a partnership that will expand educational opportunities for young people.
“Education in Karnes County is a priority for Marathon Oil,” Spilman said. “I’m really excited about how the school districts are coming together and partnering with industry to improve opportunities for students. The group is developing a strategic plan for moving forward, which we support whole-heartedly. We look forward to future discussions with all the districts. As an early step in this process, Marathon Oil is very pleased to make a contribution to the Karnes City ISD Education Foundation for $25,000. The Foundation, established in 2011, supports student programs, projects and initiatives that do not receive tax-based funding.”