Chevron Corp. committed $20 million Tuesday to a regional initiative that will promote STEM education programs in 27 counties across Western Pennsylvania.

Calling it the Appalachia Partnership, the initiative will fund workforce development programming in the areas of science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) with a focus on students in grades K-12 and beyond to the college level. The initiative is being coordinated with the support of the Allegheny Conference, Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and RAND Corp.

“We wish to establish a long-term partnership with the region,” said Nigel Hearne, president of Chevron Appalachia. The energy company is moving forward on plans to build an ethane cracker plant in Beaver County that would employ more than 400 people in energy and construction-related jobs.

At its core, the partnership marks a concerted effort by businesses and nonprofits to address the critical shortage of skills in the local workforce in the areas of STEM, says Dennis Yablonsky, CEO of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development (ACCD).

A study conducted by ACCD in 2012 found that many well-paying positions in STEM fields would go unfilled in the future unless the workforce shortage in STEM fields is addressed.

“There’s a (workforce) shortage in our region and nationally in spades,” Yablonsky said. “Companies (in the region) will need 7,000 people between now and 2020. If we care about these young people, we need to give them the skills they need.”

The program is designed to build a pathway by offering the latest in hands-on, STEM education training beginning as young as kindergarten with a focus on middle, high school and beyond to the college level. For now, the funding will support three workforce development programs already underway:

Project Lead The Way, building STEM programs in K-12 schools by offering hands-on science learning and teacher training. Chevron has already funded the launch of 10 of these programs in the region.

ShaleNET, a workforce training program for the oil and natural gas industry that will provide scholarships for students going into STEM fields as well as resources and training programs.

Energy Labs at Elizabeth Forward and Bethlehem Center schools districts, will be established with the help of grad students at Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. CMU is developing an interactive science application that will teach middle school students about energy resources.

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Deb is an award-winning journalist who loves ancient places and cool technologies. A former daily newspaper reporter and Time-Life Books editor, she writes mostly about Pittsburgh. Her stories have appeared in Fast Company, Ozy and Pittsburgh Magazine.