High school diplomas have been hard to come by in an isolated hamlet of about 240 people in Alberta, Canada.
Conklin's school only offered classes through the ninth grade, so students had to go to boarding school about two hours away in Fort McMurray to continue their education.
The difficulty of spending the week away from home, living in a city of about 50,000 people and trying to keep up with their studies kept many Conklin teens from earning diplomas.
Devon Energy Corp. officials learned of the problem while establishing operations at the company's nearby Jackfish project in Alberta's oil sands.
The company spearheaded an effort to establish a secondary school in Conklin. Its students are largely Metis, a Canadian aboriginal group.
“While education is not our job, our interests lie in having available local skilled workforce,” said Greg Brady, Devon's vice president of aboriginal
Brady said the company worked with local officials to establish a secondary school in Conklin that would allow students to stay at home while they finish their studies.
It opened its doors in 2010, offering online learning tailor-made for aboriginal students.
“Now we're a full-
Howell said there are about 15,000 jobs within 10 miles of Conklin, but the best of those are only available to those with a diploma.
So he is working to boost attendance at the new school, and he speaks glowingly of Devon's
“Devon has been a wonderful supporter of the education system here,” he said.
The new school is housed in a prefabricated building near the community's existing school. It has had as many as 13 students. Currently there are seven, Howell said.
Devon has committed funding for the secondary school program in Conklin, including the hiring of a facilitator for the online education program.
“Our ultimate goal is to create a compelling future for these kids,” Brady said.
The company's efforts have not gone unnoticed. Devon has earned a Responsible Canadian Energy Award from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers for its social
“This recognition affirms our commitment to the Conklin community, which we consider an important neighbor that has played a significant role in our Jackfish development,” Devon CEO John Richels said. “Education is critical to the development of young people, and we consider it a privilege to assist Conklin in the establishment of this program.”
Brady said he was proud of the recognition Devon received for the school project.
“Ultimately it's not Devon that's the winner. It's the kids,” he said.
Howell took two students who had been regularly attending class at the new school to Calgary for the March 21 award presentation.
He said he wants to reward Conklin students for their hard work, while showing them the opportunities available for them if they earn a diploma.
Howell said he hopes some will be able to study engineering at a university so they can return to Conklin to run one of the area oil sands operations.
Devon's Jackfish project is about 10 miles from Conklin. Brady estimated there are about 11 significant projects within about 30 miles.
The company also has helped establish several businesses in Conklin to serve the oil industry in the area, he said