Chevron Corp. has donated $350,000 to three local schools as part of an initiative aimed at expanding local educational and economic opportunities.

At a ceremony Thursday, the company plans to present representatives of Bakersfield College, Taft College and Cal State Bakersfield's Small Business Development Center mock checks symbolizing its commitment.

The donations allow Chevron to invest in what may become its future workforce as well as the community in which it has worked for more than 100 years.

"This is a chance to expand and focus on economic and workforce development," Chevron public affairs representative Adam Alvidrez said Wednesday.

While the company has for years donated to local schools, this latest round of grants is part of a corporate initiative that has directed millions of dollars to Kern County schools.

Since 2007 Chevron has given local schools more than $5 million to support science, technology, engineering and math programs. Alvidrez said the company expects to announce more grants later this year.

CSUB's SBDC expects to spend its share of the new round of grants -- $100,000 -- expanding the services it offers local businesses and entrepreneurs, including webinars, classes, work experience opportunities and one-on-one counseling.

"The scope, volume and geographic reach of the SBDC's service is set to increase dramatically with Chevron's partnership," center Director Kelly Bearden wrote in an email Wednesday.

Bakersfield College spokeswoman Amber Chiang said Chevron's contribution of $125,000 will pay for updated equipment for technology students to learn on, outreach intended to interest students in engineering and energy-related fields, and job skills certificates geared specifically toward petroleum work.

"Chevron is constantly in support of what we're doing," she said. "This is just one more level to their giving."

Taft College plans to use its $125,000 grant to put on a series of workshops for people interested in the energy field. It also intends to use the money to host a conference that would bring together industry people with Taft students this summer.

"By doing so," college President and Superintendent Dena Maloney said, "we hope to create that link to raise awareness among those that are looking for career options and employers that are looking to create a pool of qualified applicants for great positions that are available."

San Ramon-based Chevron, California's and Kern County's top oil producer, is doing well financially. It earned $82 million in 2011, about a fifth more than it netted in 2010 and half again as much as the company earned in 2009. Its stock closed Wednesday at $116.45 -- very near its peak over the past year.

At the same time, the nation's oil industry as a whole is nervous about its aging workforce. Not enough young petroleum engineers have joined the ranks to replace an upcoming wave of retirements.

There's little question that investing in local education, and science in particular, serves Chevron's long term interests.

"They're investing in their future employees," Bakersfield College's Chiang said of the company's donations.

Alvidrez said Chevron likes the idea of developing the local workforce, even to its own benefit. But he emphasized that that is not the sole intent of the grants.

"We want to be known for building relationships and partnerships locally," he said. "Hopefully we'll stimulate the economy."