By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2014, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
Anyone who knows me knows that STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education is one of my hot buttons.
After access to investment capital, individuals trained in these disciplines are the lifeblood of every start-up economy. We need a workforce that understands physics, chemistry, computer science, mechanics, and problem-solving above all.
That’s why I am such an advocate of the Oklahoma School of Science and Math (OSSM), a statewide magnet for STEM.
The academic and professional accomplishments of the 1,407 OSSM graduates could fill all of my columns for the rest of the year, starting with scholarship offers that exceed $123 million.
More than half the OSSM enrollment is from communities of fewer than 10,000; students from all of Oklahoma’s 77 counties have been selected to attend.
Kristine Turvey Baranski was in the class of 1996. Her hometown of Braman had less than 350 people. Her dad was a farmer; her mom taught school. Baranski says that she had a fabulous math teacher from third through eighth grade.
“He was funny and gave real-world experiences about why math was important,” she said. “I learned to enjoy math from that opportunity. My mom taught science, and growing up on a farm, nature and biology were all around us. I enjoyed exploring and learning.”
And this is the point about STEM — it can stick when students get interested early on. When they want to go further, we need to provide AP classes and opportunities like scientific mentorships to help them stay engaged. And those most interested in the challenges of diving deep into STEM deserve a school like OSSM.
“For students who truly enjoy science and math and want to be around peers with the same interests, there’s no better place to be,” said Baranski, an environmental engineering consultant. “OSSM sends the message that Oklahoma places an emphasis on STEM education. That’s really important when we are recruiting companies to come to our state, including the GE Research Center being built across the street from the OSSM campus.”
More than half of OSSM graduating seniors attend colleges and universities in Oklahoma. More than 60 percent live and work in our state, generating nearly $40 million in economic activity. OSSM graduates are living proof that Oklahoma has the talent and focus to build the type of STEM workforce that today’s economy demands.
STEM drives innovation. Innovation drives entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs create net new jobs.
And if you happen to visit OSSM this fall, you just might meet Baranski’s daughter. She just began her junior year at OSSM.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.