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July 7, 2022 - Southwestern Electric Power Company, on behalf of the American Electric Power Foundation, recently presented $20,000 to the Be Pro Be Proud program based out of Arkansas. The program, launched in 2016, is designed to introduce skilled trade jobs to students aged 13-18.

Andrew Parker, executive director of Be Pro Be Proud, said the program is aimed at changing student, parent and teacher perceptions about skilled professions, highlighting career opportunities in four different sectors: manufacturing, construction, transportation and utilities.

“We created the effort because we realized that we should focus our attention on increasing the breadth of the talent pipeline going into these post-secondary technical education programs so that those coming out of those programs are better equipped and more engaged in pursuing these as career paths,” Parker said.

Be Pro Be Proud focuses on 15 professions across those sectors, including linemen. The mobile workshop, which consists of a custom-built 53-foot expandable trailer, showcases the tools that the industry uses to train individuals, Parker said. There are several virtual reality simulators, including one for linemen. There are also virtual reality experiences in machining, robotics, electrical and plumbing, and manufacturing.

The program not only helps to fill skill gaps in these industries but also introduces students to career paths that do not require a four-year degree.

“We highlight the income potential and career paths and show them that if you do well and you apply yourself, you can go as far and as high as you want to,” Parker said. “College, in many cases, may become part of somebody’s future plan, but it doesn’t necessarily require that it come right after you graduate from high school. And it doesn’t always have to be paid by the individual who is getting the advanced education. Many companies who have individuals on their teams who are talented, motivated and showing lots of potential are willing to underwrite the cost of that advanced education so that they can retain those individuals and help them grow.”

Be Pro Be Proud has made more than 800 stops in Arkansas since 2016 and have reached about 145,000 students with about 45,000 signing up, Parker said. The program, which originated in Little Rock, Arkansas, expanded in 2020 to South Carolina and Georgia. In the fall, it will begin in North Carolina and will be in Tennessee by early 2023.

“Be Pro Be Proud is a great program that has had a meaningful impact in our community,” said Bradley Hardin, SWEPCO External Affairs and Government Affairs Manager. “We are proud to support their efforts to prepare the next generation with the skills they need to succeed and, in turn, help their communities flourish.”

Parker said more than 60% of the proceeds raised by the non-profit has been through charitable giving. “The success that we have achieved and the impacts we have made with students who have begun the process of pursuing these career paths of first choice would not happen without that support,” he added.

To learn more about Be Pro Be Proud, visit beprobeproud.org.

About the American Electric Power Foundation

The American Electric Power Foundation is funded by American Electric Power (Nasdaq: AEP) and its operating subsidiaries. The Foundation provides a permanent, ongoing resource for charitable initiatives involving higher dollar values and multi-year commitments in the communities served by AEP and initiatives outside of AEP’s 11-state service area.

The Foundation focuses on improving lives through education from early childhood through higher education in the areas of science, technology, engineering and math; by meeting basic needs for emergency shelter, affordable housing and the elimination of hunger; and championing social and racial justice. Other Foundation support may be offered to protect the environment, promote healthcare and safety, and enrich life through art, music and cultural heritage.