While Appalachia is one of the most beautiful regions of our nation, it is also one with a famously tough economic history, and the Great Recession has been particularly hard on the area. Chevron Corporation recently announced a $20 million effort designed to ramp up education in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) areas to meet the coming demand for highly-skilled workers for energy and technical jobs in Appalachia as the fracking boom continues.
(Don't like fracking? See our climate & energy section for a bunch of funders who share your views.)
Chevron is working with other community partners including the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, and the RAND Corporation, to make a long-term regional commitment to improving STEM education and connecting these educated folks to jobs. This is part of Chevron's broader $130 million pledge to education nationwide.
Related - Chevron: Grants for Science Education
These dollars from Chevron will go to help build STEM programs in the K-12 schools in the Appalachia area, which includes 27 counties across southwest Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia and eastern Ohio. It will also fund ShaleNET, which links people to the training they need for jobs in the energy industry.
ShaleNET provides scholarships to students at four community colleges in the region. Money will also go to Carnegie Mellon University to develop an Energy Lab that will serve some of the local school districts by teaching middle schools students about energy resources.
Before saying more about this gift, let's pause to reflect on the bigger picture: Energy companies are rolling in cash these days, so they have more resources to spare for their philanthropy. But self-interested motives are also at play. These companies are starved for skilled workers as they engage in rushed expansion, and they've been battered by negative publicity related to fracking and climate change.
So energy philanthropy on STEM, and education more broadly, kills a couple of birds with one stone, helping both to train new workers and to generate good press, including in places where fracking is dividing neighbor from neighbor.
And wouldn't you know it? Local Appalachia officials are expressing appreciation for Chevron's carefully analyzed approach to workforce development in the area."Chevron is playing a much-needed leadership role in looking not just at jobs, but at the underlying need for enhanced STEM education and training for the region's energy workforce," said Dennis Yablonsky, chief executive officer of the Allegheny Conference.
Still, it would be a mistake to see this as a mere PR play. A great many U.S. companies are seriously worried about the STEM gap, and Chevron is among them.
In fact, Chevron has invested heavily in the research behind this latest initiative, backing a study and collaborative discussion in 2011 at the Carnegie Science Center. The center's research has analyzed the scope of the STEM gap that needs to be addressed, and has also suggested that more needs to be done to educate parents and families in the area about the changes in the workforce and the value of STEM jobs.