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Community invests in itself via CO2 racing

Duncan, Oklahoma, event opens students’ minds to technical careers

At a glance

  • A CO2 race, which originally began as a draw for a job fair, grew into a central event.
  • Engineers from local industry have also taken an interest and have volunteered to help students with their cars.

By PJ Graham, Web Content Specialist

DUNCAN, OK – It’s not often that you see a half dozen area businesses helping out at a school event, but it happens every year in one Oklahoma town – and for good reason.

This past spring, approximately 300 middle and high school students from Duncan, OK, and the surrounding communities competed with their CO2 dragsters in the Duncan Area Youth Engineering Contest.

Created in 2008 by the Duncan Area Economic Development Foundation (DAEDF), the contest encourages students to learn skills needed by area businesses as they design, build, and race CO2 dragsters. The purpose is to make students aware of area technical and engineering jobs and expose them to the know-how those jobs demand.

The contest was originally part of a bigger event and had just 17 entries the first year.

“We did this simultaneously with our job fair,” said Lyle Ruggow, DAEDF president. “We had 30 different businesses, and we’d use the job fair to help students learn about the jobs in the area. At the same time, we’d do the race – it was kind of an attention-getter.

“Now it’s turned out that this triumphed over the job fair a little bit.”

However, DAEDF isn’t on its own in this endeavor. Local communities and businesses really step up to support the event.

Jeannie Bowden, DAEDF’s business and industry specialist, said they have six sponsors plus companies that provide volunteers to help run the event. In 2015, they started a corporate division where each company makes a dragster and races it against other companies. Parents also volunteer.

“We’re blessed that our community believes in investing in itself, so it really wouldn’t matter if it were a CO2 race or an arts program or whatever,” said Bowden. “We all just help each other. Many of the businesses do it primarily because it’s their future workforce. It teaches the kids employable skills like problem solving and critical thinking.”

Brad Boles, president of Wilco Machine & Fab Inc. in neighboring Marlow, OK, says sponsoring the competition is good for his company as well as the students.

“I think it’s very important to promote engineering and manufacturing to our local students,” Boles said. “They are the future of our workforce, and the more educated and talented they are, the more successfully we can compete in the future global marketplace.”

The community helps in other ways too. The cutting and drilling of a dragster can’t be done at some schools due to rules against saws and power tools. According to Duncan Gateway to Technology STEM teacher Tammy Bennett, her school is one of those with such restrictions. She says this often discourages students, but between parents and community members they find a way for students to make the cars.

“We actually opened up the church one day and had the kids signed up to come. Some of the engineers around here came together to help the kids cut out the cars,” said Bennett. “Our community – with the whole program – has really come into play. Otherwise, we would not have the STEM program we have now. That is definitely a big piece of Duncan.

“We have a lot of engineers – that’s one of the big things in our community – through Halliburton and the other oil field areas. I think there’s been a big push for it because of the engineers in our area.”

Boles became president of Wilco in 2008, the same year the engineering contest began, and said he’s also noticed the difference the event makes in the community.

“I’ve seen an improvement in the level of exposure our local students have to manufacturing and engineering, and most of that is due to the DAEDF vision and the success in partnering the local workforce with the local school districts so they can better work together to improve the technical skills of our future workforce, which is today’s students.”

With all this support and hard work, it’s likely that the DAEDF contest will continue to open students’ minds to technical careers for many years to come.