By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2017, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
We live in a knowledge-dependent economy.
The Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics (OSSM), is one of the best pipelines in the country for the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) talent that is at the core of innovation and entrepreneurship.
The school is inspiring; the students amazing. I am a huge fan.
Last month, I emceed an OSSM fundraising dinner — the cumulative budget cuts to education funding are having a terrible impact on schools across the state — especially when it comes to attracting and retaining scarce and highly sought after teachers in science and math.
Geoffrey Beach, associate professor in MIT’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, was the keynote speaker. Geoff’s story, while fairly atypical for a boy who grew up in Fort Gibson, is fairly typical for OSSM graduates.
Young Geoff loved being outside and building things with his hands. Those “things” became model rockets — some 50 or more. Geoff took all the science and math he could at Fort Gibson. When OSSM was just being established, representatives came to Geoff’s school to recruit. He was mesmerized.
“Fort Gibson was wonderful. I loved the school and my teachers, but there weren’t a lot of people like me with that kind of interest,” Geoff said. “Going to OSSM, I realized that there are lots of people like me. The kind of opportunity you have there in science — taking college level classes in whatever you want — there was no limit. To have that in Oklahoma is just extraordinary.”
Geoff went from OSSM to Caltech, earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, and joined the MIT faculty in 2008. When he describes his work today, he modestly says that “We are creating new materials that don’t exist in nature.”
In reality, Geoff and his team are at the leading edge of materials science, using magnetics and nanotechnology to build new materials atom by atom to overcome limitations and solve problems that couldn’t be solved before.
Talk to any OSSM graduate, from someone recent or a scientist like Geoff who attended when the campus was just an empty field, and they will tell you that the knowledge and rigor of OSSM changed their lives.
More than 85 percent of OSSM alumni are remaining in technical or scientific fields for their career pursuit. Of those who have completed their higher education and are working, about half remain in Oklahoma. The other half, like Geoff, take opportunities somewhere else, and that has a multiplier effect.
OSSM graduates all over the country serve as anchor points and ambassadors for Oklahoma’s world class research institutions, our business-friendly environment, and the support and capital that’s available here for entrepreneurs.
“The thing that Oklahoma may not be publicized for is math, science, and innovation. But those of us from Oklahoma who pursue careers outside the state can describe the great things that are going on back home,” Geoff said. “We may have colleagues who have a great idea, and we can say, take it to Oklahoma. There’s a lot going on and there’s a lot of opportunity.”
Someday Oklahoma may just have a Nobel Prize winner in science and that winner may just be someone like Geoff who started in Fort Gibson and ended up at MIT because of the opportunities afforded to them by 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 support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.