Twenty-seven business and higher education partnerships throughout the state were recently recognized as innovative collaborations that further the education of Oklahoma’s workforce.

The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education’s Regents Business Partnership Excellence Award is designed to highlight successful partnerships between higher education institutions and businesses and to further cultivate the higher learning environment through State Regents’ Economic Development Grants.

Oklahoma State Regent Mike Turpen served as master of ceremonies for the event. Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell and State Regent Ann Holloway also participated.

Institutions involved in these partnerships provide $500 for tuition waivers to employees of the partnering businesses; internships that enable current students to work at the partnering businesses; faculty externships with the partnering businesses; and/or enhancement of the partnerships with additional equipment, materials or supplies. The State Regents provide a $500 match to the waivers.

“Our colleges and universities collaborate with leaders in the private, public and nonprofit sectors to strengthen our workforce,” said Chancellor Glen D. Johnson. “These partnerships between businesses and our state system institutions advance Oklahoma’s efforts to build the skilled workforce required to compete in today’s global economy.”

The partnerships recognized for 2020 are:

Cameron University and Coast Audio Video
The partnership between CU and Coast Audio Video began when owner Chris Coast joined CU’s Business Incubator Center for Emerging Technology and Entrepreneurial Studies (CETES). Coast Audio Video leveraged the support of CETES from business coaching — now in partnership with the Oklahoma Small Business Development Center — to managing the balance sheet and expanding market reach. Coast graduated from CETES last year and has matured from a one-man startup to purchasing his own brick and mortar. Launching with one salesperson, four techs, and one engineer, Coast set the goal of growing the business to $1 million per year by year five. Three years later, he exceeded all goals debt-free, expanding their range of services statewide and hiring nine employees. Coast Audio Video is now located in the heart of downtown Lawton, and is an active community partner, serving on the boards of Lawton Rotary Leadership Institute and Lawton Young Professionals and as a member of the Lawton Fort-Sill Chamber of Commerce.

Carl Albert State College and the Sallisaw Improvement Corporation
The Sallisaw Improvement Corporation (SIC) is a valued supporter of CASC. The SIC partnership with the City of Sallisaw has created tremendous economic growth by bringing in new business and industry and creating new jobs for individuals within the service area of CASC. The meaningful investments in CASC and the City of Sallisaw help to improve the quality of life for the citizens of Sallisaw and Sequoyah County. SIC’s investment of $25,000 in CASC’s concurrent enrollment early access program provides funding to students who want to enroll concurrently and who traditionally would not be able to afford a higher education, even with free tuition. Buddy Spencer, the SIC board president, has been a champion for CASC. He served more than 20 years as the chair of the Sallisaw Committee for Excellence and trustee on the CASC Development Foundation.

Connors State College and Cherokee Health Partners LLC
Cherokee Health Partners LLC is a unique company formed as a partnership between Northeastern Health System and the Cherokee Nation. This organization provides health services to more than 17,000 tribal members across 14 Oklahoma counties, and have also partnered with CSC and Northeastern State University to collectively expand the CSC nursing program into Cherokee County. There is a critical need for nurses throughout rural Oklahoma, and CSC has a role in preparing students to fill that need. This vital partnership allows the Cherokee Nation and Northeastern Health System to fund two full-time nursing faculty for the satellite campus. CSC is part of a partnership that fully reflects the benefits of collaboration among public, private and tribal institutions and continues the effort of addressing the workforce needs across communities.

East Central University and Ada Coca-Cola Bottling Company
Ada Coca-Cola Bottling Co. and ECU have been partners for more than 50 years. Most recently, Ada Coca-Cola partnered with ECU to provide a large interactive video scoreboard for the Koi Ishto football stadium. In addition to providing support for athletics programs, it also supports many student organizations through direct funding and supplying water and beverages. The Coca-Cola Bottling Co. provides internship opportunities to ECU students every year and facilitates advertising that links the university with the international brand of Coca-Cola. Ada Coca-Cola Bottling Co. was built in 1905. In 1908, T. B. and Agnes Blake moved to Ada to purchase the franchise.

Eastern Oklahoma State College and The Community State Bank
Locally owned and operated, The Community State Bank (TCSB) is a community-oriented organization whose staff is involved in numerous civic and community events, activities and fundraisers in southeast Oklahoma. In fall 2017, TCSB opened a branch location in Wilburton and quickly became a supporter of EOSC’s scholarship initiatives and student activities. TCSB and the Bob Reed Family Trust of Poteau partnered with EOSC’s agriculture division to purchase three sets of stocker cattle for use in the college’s ranch management degree program. Students take responsibility for the day-to-day management of the stocker herd before selling them to a commercial feedlot. After the initial investments were recovered, the nearly $70,000 in proceeds were donated to the EOSC Foundation to support the agriculture division. In addition, TCSB became the lead sponsor in the 2019 Eastern Oklahoma Regional Science and Engineering Fair. The annual event is for math and science students in grades six through 12, and encourages students to learn the scientific method, conduct original scientific research and report their experimental results.

Langston University and The Lewis Group
The Lewis Group and its founder, Sherman Lewis, have been valuable partners of LU for more than 20 years. The Lewis Group is a commercial real estate and franchising firm based in Houston, Texas, with more than 1,000 employees — the largest black-owned employer in Houston. A proud LU alumnus, Lewis has leveraged his success to enhance educational opportunities at his alma mater. Lewis established the Sherman Lewis Agricultural Scholarship and supports countless other scholarship initiatives. He volunteers for various School of Agriculture projects and proudly donates his time to ensure its continued success. In 2014, Lewis received the Heart of the Lion Award for giving the largest gift of any living alumni. In addition to supporting the university financially, Lewis serves as a trustee for the urban campuses. His leadership and yearly donations to the annual gala have afforded the university with countless resources, all for the benefit of the campus community. With the support of Lewis, LU students can access more scholarships and proudly complete their degrees.

Murray State College and Mercy Hospital Ardmore
Mercy Hospital Ardmore’s deep commitment to its communities opened the door for MSC to propose a Murray @ Mercy partnership to produce registered nurses. The nursing program, established in January 2019, was created to provide opportunities for potential students and to address southern Oklahoma’s nursing shortage. It allows students to become immersed in a hospital-based setting as an integral part of their daily lives and educational framework. Those who complete the program are expected to be highly marketable and provide Mercy with a productive pool of nursing candidates. Students benefit by having a built-in support system and on-site role models. Murray @ Mercy is a win-win for students, communities and patients who seek care at Mercy Hospital. The Mercy Foundation provides funds for this partnership program. As stewards of both the Mercy and MSC missions, students who flourish in this program become registered nurses who make a difference in the lives of others in southern Oklahoma and beyond.

Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College and Arvest Bank Miami
Arvest Bank Miami has been a long-time partner of NEO. Through the Arvest Foundation, Arvest Bank Miami provides yearly support to business education and has donated more than $60,000 in the past eight years. This support helps fund business scholarships, as well as provide co-curricular leadership and competition opportunities to students in the Phi Beta Lambda business club and the Love’s Cup Small Business Competition. The bank supports NEO through the Arvest Foundation, which is an outreach program that seeks to improve the life in local communities. Serving as the charitable arm of Arvest Bank, the Arvest Foundation provides local branches in the four-state area to support local organizations. In addition to its support of NEO, Arvest Bank Miami has been a steadfast supporter of community efforts that strengthen the Miami community, such as financially rewarding outstanding Oklahoma teachers and funding the First United Methodist Church’s backpack program to fight child hunger as part of the 1 Million Meals initiative.

Northeastern State University and Georgia-Pacific
Twenty years ago, NSU and Georgia-Pacific forged a partnership to strengthen the workforce in the region. The partnership helps fund student scholarships for those majoring in disciplines related to computer science, information systems, technology, accounting and/or engineering. During this time, Georgia-Pacific has provided $100,000 in scholarships to NSU students who have a financial hardship and are committed to community service. One hundred NSU students have been able to continue their dreams of earning a college degree and contributing to the workforce in northeast Oklahoma with Georgia-Pacific’s generosity and efforts. NSU graduates who majored in these technology and industry areas make up a substantial portion of the workforce in this region. Georgia-Pacific makes a difference in our communities through sustainable practices, engaging our community of learners, and creating solutions to enhance our workforce.

Northern Oklahoma College and Autry Technology Center
NOC and Autry Technology Center’s partnership began in the mid-1990s serving thousands of health care students in cooperative Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree programs. For the past two years, Autry has sponsored the full-time program director position for NOC’s respiratory care therapy program. The director is employed by NOC, the degree-granting partner for the A.A.S. degree. In this partnership, the director teaches program classes and supervises clinicals at medical sites, as well as holding office hours at NOC to help mentor students in the program. Autry’s respiratory care program opened in Enid in 2006 and has more than 100 graduates to date, with a 96% pass rate on the board examinations conducted by the National Board for Respiratory Care. Ninety-four percent of those graduates find positions working in the field. Garfield County serves as a regional medical hub in Oklahoma. Currently, there are 50,000 nationwide respiratory therapy positions open, with 400 in Oklahoma.

Northwestern Oklahoma State University and Value Added Products
Through NWOSU’s partnership with Value Added Products (VAP), NWOSU business and mass communication students were tasked with creating new marketing materials for the Alva-based dough manufacturing business. Throughout the year, students designed and presented a new logo, created slogans and a promotional video, as well as a modular vendor booth display for trade shows. The students’ new logo for the dough company was “VAP, Rising Above the Rest.” One student involved with the campaign was able to attend the Pizza Expo in Las Vegas, Nevada, with the company and see firsthand how the content created would further brand awareness. The students are now revamping VAP’s entire website. Geoff Clark, VAP’s chief executive officer, says the NWOSU students are doing an excellent job and it only costs the company…pizzas! VAP again received an “AA” BRC certification which is the internationally recognized mark of food safety and quality. Currently, the Alva plant, which began in the late 1990s, employs 53 people.

Oklahoma City Community College and JPMorgan Chase Foundation
In 2015, JPMorgan Chase Foundation provided more than $500,000 to OCCC to assist in launching the first and only Honda Professional Automotive Career Training (PACT) program in Oklahoma. The two-year Honda PACT program allows full-time students to earn full-time wages while working toward their Associate in Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in automotive technology. Under the instruction of OCCC´s cadre of Honda Master Technician instructors, students learn how to maintain, diagnose and repair two of the world´s most popular brands of automobiles: Honda and Acura. In addition to their coursework, students are also required to work in Honda and Acura dealerships across the state to enhance their education. Since the inaugural launch in fall 2017, the PACT program will have graduated and placed about 25 technicians by May 2020. Upon graduation, each new technician earns an estimated salary of $40,000 per year.

Oklahoma Panhandle State University and High Plains Technology Center
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration recently awarded a $1.5 million grant to OPSU and High Plains Technology Center (HPTC) to build a new welding technology training center in Guymon. The grant, to be matched with $389,504 in local investment, is expected to create 30 jobs. Students can earn their welding certificate through HPTC while also taking classes at OPSU to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree. Under this project, OPSU and HPTC schools work together to provide much-needed skills training opportunities to the three-county Panhandle region. The partnership will develop a career path for individuals to enter the high-demand welding workforce. The program creates opportunities for economic development and individual prosperity by producing a pipeline of knowledgeable, industry-certified trade workers and managers who are desperately needed in the larger regional economy.

Oklahoma State University New Product Development Center and ATS Worldwide LLC
OSU’s New Product Development Center (NPDC) collaborates with entrepreneurs, inventors and manufacturers to provide engineering solutions with an economic impact. The NPDC and Edmond-based ATS Worldwide LLC have partnered to develop an airport taxiway technology that will be revolutionary for domestic and international airports. The airplane towing system, or ATS, will reduce fuel costs and plane emissions. Outcomes from this partnership include interdisciplinary research and development conducted among five schools of engineering at OSU, ATS Worldwide company growth, and economic development in Oklahoma. ATS Worldwide is currently leasing taxiway for prototype testing purposes at Ardmore’s Industrial Airpark. Oklahoma impacts from this project include new employment opportunities and more than $1.9 million invested in infused capital. In addition, the company and the NPDC have presented the technology at national and international conferences, bringing light to Oklahoma-based technology development and innovation.

Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology and ABB
ABB, based in Bartlesville, has maintained a consistent, long-term partnership with OSUIT. Over many decades, this partnership has helped carry out the mission of providing hands-on learning experiences that prepare students for meaningful careers in the technology industry. The company fostered this partnership through generous equipment donations that offer students the opportunity to train with state-of-the-art equipment. Many OSUIT student capstone projects have been designed and constructed with ABB products specifically donated for that purpose. ABB also provides free training for faculty, tours of their Bartlesville manufacturing facility and technical product support for students working on projects. ABB supports OSUIT programs by funding student projects, providing student internships and hiring OSUIT graduates. ABB’s overall collaborative endeavors enhance the quality of the educational experience for OSUIT students.

Oklahoma State University Oklahoma City and the Curbside Chronicle
A $50,000 grant from the Inasmuch Foundation will help OSU-OKC provide job-building instruction to residents who are transitioning out of homelessness. The efforts will support The Curbside Chronicle, which operates floral sales for Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. The nonprofit will soon open a year-round, brick-and-mortar flower shop. This grant allows OSU-OKC to offer sessions in floral design and business skills through its retail floristry certificate program. This session can be completed in one semester through five weekend courses. The grant supports the Back on Track Education and Training Fund, which provides homeless individuals with the opportunity to complete a college certificate. The Curbside Chronicle, a Homeless Alliance program, works to create supportive employment opportunities for the homeless in Oklahoma City.

Redlands Community College and El Reno Public Schools
El Reno Public Schools (ERPS) and RCC have participated in numerous partnership activities to better serve their students. With the development of a shared faculty position for science, technology, engineering and math classes, the creation of the Bluestem Agri-Learning Project, the development of a pre-college algebra course and a shared athletic field to support the RCC Lady Cougars soccer team, their partnership serves all area students in furthering their educational opportunities. Through the ERPS Foundation, ERPS has funded the fees component of senior and junior concurrent enrollment courses. Additionally, through use of INBRE funding, RCC has provided much needed classroom learning tools to assist in science instruction in middle schools. ERPS has allowed RCC students to work with its reading development program as part of the college’s service learning classroom program.

Rogers State University and the Sarkeys Foundation
For more than a quarter of a century, the Sarkeys Foundation has supported the mission of RSU with investments that have enhanced the student experience. The foundation created its first endowment at RSU in 1996 and later created a second endowment specifically to provide scholarship assistance to students who earned the General Educational Development certificate (GED). In 2000, the Sarkeys Foundation endowed a faculty chair in business information technology to meet the growing demand for information technology specialists who can communicate effectively and are knowledgeable of business needs. In 2005, the Sarkeys Foundation created the Sarkeys Honor Endowment, providing an atmosphere where the best and brightest scholars challenge themselves academically and maximize their college experience. The physical campus of RSU has also benefitted from the commitment of the Sarkeys Foundation with the construction of the west terrace at the Dr. Carolyn Taylor Center, providing an outdoor space for students and employees to study and work.

Rose State College and Northrop Grumman
The RSC and Northrop Grumman partnership is driven by a common passion to provide a viable workforce to the communities they serve. Locally, this aerospace giant continues its role as a strategic partner with Tinker Air Force Base and RSC. Whether it’s their sponsorship of Cyber Patriot, developing critical Air Force flying assets like the B-21 Raider or taking the lead in composite fabrication, Northrop Grumman continues to cultivate innovative learning opportunities. Under the direction of the Oklahoma City site director Greg Smith and his predecessor Norm Mejstrik, Northrop Grumman is a steadfast advocate of RSC initiatives, including RSC´s workforce department’s collaboration with the firm to design and implement a pioneering aerospace manufacturing certificate program. The corporation also underwrites student scholarships through the Rose State Foundation.

Seminole State College and Gordon Cooper Technology Center
SSC and Gordon Cooper Technology Center (GCTC) have been partners for decades, helping students achieve their educational goals and, in turn, producing a better-trained workforce for Seminole, Pottawatomie, Lincoln, Okfuskee and Hughes counties. The GCTC campus has provided the classroom site for numerous SSC college courses, both offered concurrently to high school students and the public. Additionally, two SSC high-level math courses, Calculus I and Calculus II, are offered to GCTC students in Shawnee for college credit. Dramatic cuts in state funding caused SSC to look at closing their long-time medical laboratory technology program in late 2016. Through a partnership with GCTC, the program moved to new facilities provided by the technology center. A physical therapy assistant (PTA) program was also created, received national certification and graduated its first class last spring. Students completing the PTA program receive an Associate in Applied Science degree from SSC and are eligible for a licensure exam. A similar effort to meet local workforce needs has been developed by the two entities through a cooperative program in engineering.

Southeastern Oklahoma State University and the Craft Pies Pizza Company
The Craft Pies Pizza Company opened for business in Durant in 2019 and quickly became involved in supporting the community. This is their third location, with the other two restaurants located in north Texas. The company was founded by three area businessmen: Rusty Robinson, Brad Robinson and Bryan Beaver. Armed with an entrepreneurial dream, a shoestring budget and a pizza oven that didn’t work, these three individuals set out to create the best possible fast-casual pizza experience. Craft Pies Pizza has partnered with the Southeastern Department of Intercollegiate Athletics to provide products and fan-engagement opportunities at athletic events. In addition, a number of Southeastern students work at the restaurant.

Southwestern Oklahoma State University and Southwest Intermediary Finance Team Inc.
Southwest Intermediary Finance Team Inc. (SWIFT) is a private, not-for-profit U.S. Department of Agriculture lending intermediary. SWIFT’s impact has benefitted SWOSU and the 14 counties it serves in southwest Oklahoma. After completing medical school, Dr. Trey Thomason returned to his hometown, Hinton, to establish his practice with the benefit from a SWIFT grant. With the nearest hospital 22 miles away, this clinic provides access to essential health care that some rural patients otherwise would not receive. SWIFT is also housed at the Timothy T. Day Business Enterprise Center on the SWOSU campus. SWOSU President Randy Beutler serves on the SWIFT board and former SWOSU President John Hays is the SWIFT board chairman. SWIFT borrowers benefit not only from the financing they receive for their businesses, but also from expert technical assistance provided by the organization. SWIFT has had a positive impact on the economy of southwest Oklahoma, contributing to nearly $17 million in earnings and the creation of 319 jobs.

Tulsa Community College and Public Service Company of Oklahoma
Since TCC´s inception in 1970, Public Service Company of Oklahoma (PSO), a subsidiary of American Electric Power (AEP), has been a steadfast supporter and advocate. In addition to donating nearly $900,000 to TCC and the TCC Foundation over the past 17 years, PSO has consistently supported academics, diversity, sustainability, early childhood education and the arts. The company supports events and programs such as the Tribal Nations Achievement Summit, EcoFest and the Signature Symphony at TCC, just to name a few. PSO has also been instrumental in the facilitation of science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related grants and opportunities, including the AEP Foundation Credits Count Grant from AEP. The $3 million grant serves Tulsa students by increasing exposure to STEM through hands-on learning experiences and completion of college credits while in high school. Several PSO executives also give their time and leadership by serving on the TCC board of regents, the TCC Foundation board, and the Signature Symphony advisory board.

University of Central Oklahoma and Sunbeam Family Services
Sunbeam Family Services is committed to the community and to training UCO students to become successful professionals in serving metro residents. Sunbeam’s mission is to provide help, hope and the opportunity to succeed to people of all ages in central Oklahoma through early childhood services, counseling, foster care and senior services. Up to 30 UCO graduate and undergraduate students each year have been nurtured by Sunbeam’s Educare Oklahoma City, a state-of-the-art school that provides high-quality early childhood education. Currently, Sunbeam employs 11 UCO graduates who work in early childhood services, and some students have also obtained careers with Sunbeam Aging Services. Undergraduate students have worked at Sunbeam’s Emergency Senior Shelter and the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program. Students participate in 25-hour field studies, have completed 150 practicum hours and interned for 400 hours. Sunbeam’s leadership and staff also offer their expertise during gerontology and child development classes.

University of Oklahoma and Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores
Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores and the Tom and Judy Love Foundation are longstanding partners of OU and the Michael F. Price College of Business. In 2018, OU announced a leadership gift from the Tom and Judy Love Foundation in support of Price College’s entrepreneurship initiatives. OU honored the Loves’ donation by naming the Division of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, Tom Love Innovation Hub (I-Hub), the Center for Entrepreneurship and the Entrepreneurs-in-Residence Program. The mission of I-Hub is to increase innovation and entrepreneurship across Oklahoma through outreach, instruction and collaboration with many entities. The Loves’ contribution also supports a scholarship endowment and funds at least 20 annual student scholarships or proof-of-concept grants. Additionally, Tom Love has served as the lead sponsor for Price College’s annual Business Week activities. Members of the Love’s leadership team also provide mentorship, internships and career opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.

University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and CBTS
The partnership between USAO and CBTS was created out of the need for higher-performing network capability and new security features. Prior to the partnership, network wiring at USAO was obsolete. Because USAO is a historic campus, running new network wiring through all buildings, including classrooms and dorms, was a costly endeavor. With limited budgets and declining state appropriations, CBTS created a more cost-effective and cutting-edge solution. CBTS created and implemented a wireless network upgrade and upgraded the firewall to enhance network security. From classrooms to the administration to the dormitories, USAO is an all wireless campus. CBTS is a technology firm that walks organizations through the entire process of an IT upgrade.

Western Oklahoma State College and Hot Rod Farms
WOSC began its partnership with Hot Rod Farms in 2018 when Ryan Robbins secured the lease for 35 acres of irrigated cotton ground owned by the college. Robbins, a 2002 WOSC graduate, and his family farm over 4,000 acres in Jackson County. His main crops are cotton and wheat, but he also maintains a commercial and registered Red Angus cattle operation. As the tenant of the college-owned cotton land, an additional responsibility is assisting WOSC’s agriculture department with the three adjacent acres used for the college’s annual Pumpkin Patch Festival. This event includes a pumpkin patch, corn maze, hay ride, petting zoo and carnival games, and has become an event that Altus and the surrounding communities love and appreciate. The Pumpkin Patch annually attracts more than 700 people since its inception in 2015. Through this partnership, the agriculture department has been able to offer the community entertainment and a broad knowledge base of the agriculture industry, as well as specific information regarding the pumpkins and corn grown for annual events.

For more information about RBPEA and this year’s partnerships, visit