Outstanding teachers and their biggest supporter were honored Wednesday at the 51st annual Oklahoma CareerTech Summer Conference at Cox Convention Center.
The top statewide award, Teacher of the Year, was presented to Mike Lindley of Wes Watkins Technology Center in Wetumka. Lindley teaches students in the Biomedical Science Academy, preparing them to transition into a variety of biological and pre-medicine fields of study at the college level.
"We do career exploration and prepare students to go into postsecondary life at college and universities," Lindley said. "A lot of them are intimidated by the settings that they may be going into. We're very rural."
Lindley understands. He grew up in Calvin, where he still lives and is a volunteer firefighter. Wes Watkins Technology Center serves nine feeder schools in Okmulgee, Okfuskee, Hughes and McIntosh counties.
"I'm really passionate about rural STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education because a lot of those students don't necessarily get those opportunities," Lindley said.
His award came with $10,000. Express Employment Professionals provided the cash awards for the fifth consecutive year.
Express Employment Professionals President Bob Funk Sr. was given the first Oklahoma CareerTech Advocate for Excellence award for his longtime support of CareerTech education.
"Even more than the huge monetary contribution he gives for our teachers, he is an advocate for us with legislators and business leaders, and he partners with us," said Skye McNiel, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Career and Technology Education.
"He gets us. He understands the rigor our students go through. He understands the state-of-the-art, real-world training our students get."
McNeil said no one is more deserving of the first advocate award than Funk.
"I salute every single teacher and administrator in this room," Funk said as he took off his cowboy hat. "American industries are clamoring today for your graduates."
Last week Express Employment Professionals had 750 to 800 open job orders it couldn't fill because of the lack of workers with the right skills, Funk said.
Nationwide there is a shortage of workers in accounting, information technology and light industrial, he said.
The need for more workers will grow as industries invest more in people following the second quarter gross domestic product growth of 4.1 percent, Funk said.
"CareerTech is one of the solutions," he said. "CareerTech does a great job of teaching to fill the skills gap. They are extremely flexible and design programs for special skills needed in the marketplace in real time."
Other awards and cash prizes announced were:
● Post-Secondary Teacher of the Year — Josie Scott, simulation skills lab coordinator at the Metro Technology Centers' Health Careers Center, $7,500.
The lab is where students put what they've learned to the test. Working with lifelike mannequins "they get to see the consequences of their actions. They learn more from what they do wrong than what they do right," Scott said. About 90 percent of practical nursing graduates go on to earn an associate degree and become a registered nurse, she said.
● New Teacher of the Year — Michael Rowley, family and consumer sciences educator at Midwest City High School, $5,000.
Rowley said he was motivated to choose his career by his high school family and consumer sciences teacher. "It's something that is part of everyone's life," he said.
● Support Staff Member of the Year — Kate Nickel, career major administrative professional at Northwest Technology Center in Alva, $5,000.