‘We agree’ Helping kids love science is pretty cool

‘We agree’ Helping kids love science is pretty cool

You’ve probably seen the Chevron commercial that has been in heavy national rotation in recent weeks featuring a middle-school student who helped build a robot and a Chevron engineer who is part of the company’s effort to boost the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The spot manages to tell a compelling story in 30 seconds.

The student says, “This is an RC robotic claw. Our science teacher helped us build it.”

It cuts to the engineer, who says, “My high school science teacher made me what I am today.”

The student demonstrates the robotic claw they built and says, “Isn’t that cool?”

Cut back to the engineer for the payoff. “Now I’m a geologist at Chevron, and I get to help science teachers,” he says. “Over the last three years, we’ve put nearly $100 million into American education. That’s thousands of kids learning to love science. And that’s pretty cool.”

The resulting spot is among the most effective in Chevron’s generally well-received series of print and broadcast ads with the “We Agree” theme. It was created by advertising agency powerhouse McGarryBowen, whose client list encompasses Burger King, Disney, Kraft and Pfizer, for whom they hawk Advil and Viagra. The “We Agree” campaign was launched in the wake of a spate of oil and gas industry PR fiascos, including the BP oil spill. It has been attacked and lampooned by environmentalists and other critics, with the vociferousness of the attacks the surest testament to the effectiveness of the campaign.

The teacher and student with the robot spot prompted the Business Journal to take a look inside the campaign for our Media Watch section.

First, we learned the people in the spot are who they are claimed to be.

Kaisaiah Clark is an eighth-grade student at Helms Middle School in Richmond, Calif. He is part of the engineering academy, which uses the Project Lead the Way curriculum, one of several programs aimed at promoting the teaching of science.

The Chevron engineer is Winston Seiler, a 2009 graduate of the University of Utah with a master’s in geology and geophysics who participates in a company-sponsored educational assistance program like the one he describes.

Having resolved our curiosity on that issue, we tested the spot’s claim that, “Over the last three years we’ve put nearly $100 million into American education.” Considering Chevron is a huge multinational corporation with facilities in the U.S. worth many billions of dollars, does this figure represent the school taxes paid in the normal course of business in the communities where those facilities are located?

Wrong again, Mr. Business Journal.

According to Chevron spokesman Brent Tippen, “This figure is our social investments in education, and not taxes paid. Our approach is one of partnership — by working with specialized and innovative nonprofits, we can dramatically expand the impact of our investments and collectively make each other stronger. We believe in the power of human capital. Many students don’t know what an engineer does. To reach these students, Chevron provides opportunities for them to interact with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professionals.”

Tippen was ready for my semi-tough questions, and his answers gave insight into the Chevron philosophy expressed in the ad campaign.

“Since 2008, Chevron has invested over $100 million in education in the U.S.; over the last two years, in our home state of California, Chevron invested almost $10 million in STEM education and reached more than 245,000 students and 3,900 teachers across the state,” he said. “We believe in coordinated, integrated approaches. Chevron works across sectors – with nonprofits, school districts, and statewide forums – to increase STEM education opportunities for young people.”

In addition, Tippen provided an op-ed written by Joe Laymon, Chevron vice president of Human Resources, Medical and Security that is upfront in admitting the company’s focus on science education is motivated at least in part by enlightened self-interest.“Few would have predicted that the country that put the first man on the moon would, just a few decades later, face significant disparities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. But with the United States experiencing 9.1 percent unemployment, and with many jobs in technical fields unfilled, our challenges are clear,” wrote Laymon and emphasized that the energy industry is facing an acute human resource challenge.

“Chevron is thinking years ahead about how we can invest in the development of human capital in order to build a workforce that can utilize STEM skills and ingenuity to bring energy to the global marketplace,” he concluded.

In the end, one would must conclude that enlightened self-interest is still a form of enlightenment that can work for the common good – and that your college-student nephew who is always going on about the evils of the big oil companies doesn’t know the whole story. We agree.

Business Journal editor James Shannon offers a weekly column of business news for readers of The Examiner. For more details, see the editions of the Business journal published monthly in Beaumont, Port Arthur and Greater Orange. Check out the blog at setxbiz.blogspot.com or e-mail james [at] beaumontbusinessjournal [dot] com.