RSU Gets Students Ready for College

Skiatook High School students Sierra Shannon and Jaci Mashburn build a robot during a Talent Search camp at Rogers State University.

Skiatook High School students Sierra Shannon and Jaci Mashburn build a robot during a Talent Search camp at Rogers State University. The robotics lab is the result of a grant through AT&T Aspire. Photo courtesy of RSU Talent Search.

The Talent Search program at Rogers State University is helping increase the number of Oklahoma youth who graduate high school and enroll in and complete postsecondary education programs.

Talent Search identifies and assists middle and high school students from at-risk backgrounds who have the potential to succeed in higher education. The program, which is federally funded through the U. S. Department of Education, offers academic, career and financial aid counseling to its participants. It also helps students who have dropped out of high school reenter the educational system and complete their education.

Talent Search students from Tulsa, Skiatook and Claremore middle schools visit the Conservation Education Reserve at Rogers State University.

Talent Search students from Tulsa, Skiatook and Chelsea middle schools visit the Conservation Education Reserve at Rogers State University in Claremore. Talent Search introduces students to a variety of educational and career opportunities, including biology and environmental conservation. Photo courtesy of RSU Talent Search.

RSU Talent Search Director Kevin Abbott said the program helps students navigate their options. Through the program, Abbott helps students become aware of the higher education opportunities that are available.

“We’re working with students who, according to statistics, may not go to college,” Abbott said. “We want to broaden their horizons with as many new educational and career experiences as possible to get them excited about and into college.”

Helping Students Succeed

RSU’s Talent Search program serves 14 schools in Chelsea, Claremore, Foyil, Skiatook and Tulsa. More than 70 percent of Talent Search students enroll in college or other postsecondary education program. Abbott said one of the RSU program’s strengths is the relationships that the counselors are able to build with students.

“We’re often the first people they call if they have a question about college,” Abbott said. “It gives us a unique ability to serve them.”

Academic Counselor Kelly Holmes believes those strong relationships allow counselors to prepare students for college from an early age. Holmes said she enjoys helping students discover educational options, take campus tours and explore career opportunities.

“We work with students as early as sixth grade to get them excited about the possibilities of what they can do,” Holmes said. “It’s exciting to see these students begin looking forward to their future.”

Addressing the Skills Gap

The program’s success comes at a time when higher education is at the forefront of Oklahoma’s needed areas of improvement. In her 2015 State of the State address, Gov. Mary Fallin stated that there is a significant difference between the needs of employers for skilled talent and the skills possessed by the available workforce, known as a skills gap.

Fallin said that 46 percent of the state’s working population has only attained a high school degree or less, but in five years, only 23 percent of jobs will be available at that education level. At that time, 49 percent of jobs will require a workforce credential or associate’s degree, and 28 percent of jobs will require a bachelor’s degree or higher. Fallin stated that only 31 and 24 percent of the population respectively has attained these levels of education.

“If we don’t address the skills gap, those jobs will go elsewhere,” Fallin said in her address.

RSU President Dr. Larry Rice said that education plays a vital role in helping individuals get jobs, which in turn strengthens the state’s economy.

“The goals for the Talent Search program align with RSU’s goal of increasing the number of Oklahomans who hold a college degree,” Rice said. “This is crucial for the economic vitality of northeastern Oklahoma, and I’m honored that RSU is playing a leading role in opening doors for students from at-risk backgrounds.”

Making a Difference

Abbott believes RSU’s Talent Search program is making a difference in northeast Oklahoma. He said many students have told him they wouldn’t be in college if it wasn’t for the Talent Search program.

“We do everything we can to get students into the college of their choice, and we love it when they choose RSU,” Abbott said.

Academic Counselor Jayne McLoughlin said it feels rewarding when students complete the Talent Search program and enroll in postsecondary education. She said that enrollment is key, but graduation is the program’s final goal.

“Ultimately, Talent Search is about breaking the poverty cycle,” McLoughlin said. “It’s about giving our students a better life.”

For more information, contact Abbott at 918-343-7823.