As the jobs of tomorrow become centered around science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), we must provide our youth educational pathways to achieve success. Over the past decade employment in STEM occupations grew more than 24 percent versus just 4 percent for other career paths.

STEM jobs are the jobs of the future. For the past 23 years, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Oklahoma County has empowered youth of today to be future leaders of tomorrow. We are dedicated to helping youth in our community reach their full potential as productive, caring and responsible citizens.

With 3,431 club members at four locations after school and during breaks, our programs focus on academic success, healthy lifestyles and character development. While 27 percent of youth in Oklahoma City Public Schools fail to graduate from high school, students who participate in the Boys & Girls Club have a projected 99 percent graduation rate.

Molding the leaders of tomorrow isn’t easy, particularly considering the challenging home and school situations many of our young people face, but it is vital and rewarding work. Since joining the organization nearly eight years ago, I’ve been privileged to see many lives transformed.

Our Pathways program enables teenage club members to develop their career readiness skills through educational courses such as “Diplomas 2 Degrees,” “Career Launch” and more. As we look at growing employment opportunities available in STEM industries, we’ve identified ways to deepen our impact in those areas.

This fall, the Memorial Park Boys & Girls Club will launch a STEM program called Unidentified Flight Opportunities (UFO). The program will offer 40 middle school and high school students the opportunity to learn about, design and build unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones.

By partnering with a local UAV business, Dronebois, and Alistair Connell, a recent Embry Riddell graduate with a bachelor’s in unmanned systems applications, we are developing a detailed curriculum using commercially rated drone kits. Youth will participate in classes twice a week for 12 weeks, gaining insight into what a STEM-related career looks like in an exciting and relevant way.

Students will learn the physics behind flight and creative uses for UAVs. After completing the program, participants 16 or older will have the opportunity to test for their FAA Remote Pilot Certificate, which allows the certificate holder to operate small unmanned aircraft systems — perhaps launching a UAV career before even graduating high school.

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