August 4, 2008

Tulsa Tech: Not Your Daddy’s Shop Class

By Heather Caliendo

When Kara Gae Neal became superintendent of Tulsa Tech, someone mentioned they were glad she was there for the other students.

"Other students" is a phrase Neal doesn't want to hear. She said she's proud that her school can offer a path to academic success for the students other schools don't want.

"This is a kind of image that needs to be changed," said Neal. "I said I don't know who those other students are - there are no other students, only other options."

Neal took the position after longtime superintendent Gene Callahan retired in May.

A Tulsa Community College bond issue that would have paid for construction projects on all four of its campuses - including one in Owasso - failed earlier this year. But since Tulsa Tech has renewed its partnership with TCC, the two colleges are coming together to build a jointly owned campus there.

"We are going to go ahead and build that together and then we will rent the space to them," she said. "We will have a joint presence in Owasso in the same timely manner we intended. There is just too much going on and it has to be kept together."

Neal said about one-third of Tulsa Tech's students took college credit courses last year. The Pathway Scholarship makes tuition free for eligible high school students and graduates. Those students can then attend TCC for free to complete their associate degrees.

"Tulsa County is golden right now," she said. "We have 14 years of free public education. This is nowhere else ... but it is not well-known. It is the strongest economic tool we have to offer and it's not played enough."

One way Tulsa Tech is addressing the increasing concern for a lack of engineers in the state is its Academy Program. Instead of just focusing on high school ages, the program starts at the middle school level to talk with students about engineering. When they reach the ninth and 10th grade they are taught courses by engineering certified teachers and are introduced to the principles of engineering. The program allows students to receive college credit, internship options and partnerships with Tulsa universities.

"The academy model is the answer for the technology future," she said. "We push our resources out in the area to a truly advanced technical training."

In January, Tulsa Tech will open a 179,000-square-foot health sciences center on the Lemley campus. The center will contain classrooms, laboratories and instructional medical resources.

Tulsa Tech has updated its logo, which now reads Tulsa Tech rather than Tulsa Technology Center. A new interactive Web site was launched with the tagline "Client Focused. Instruction Driven. Technology Empowered."

Neal said she hopes all of the programs and updates can change the perception of a career in technology.

"If you know any other students - those other students that no one really wants - you send them to us because we have a future waiting for them," she said. "Tulsa Tech is not your daddy's shop class anymore."

Originally published by Heather Caliendo.

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