OSU wins $6M grant to spark STEM career ambitions

Published: Tuesday, November 9, 2021 By: Kathryn McNutt Source: The Journal Record

Oklahoma State University officials announced Monday a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense will fund transformational STEM education programs for K-12 students in Oklahoma City and across the state.

OSU President Kayse Shrum said the programs will introduce science, technology, engineering and mathematics career fields to students who otherwise might not consider jobs in STEM.

“Having a qualified STEM workforce means early engagement with our young students,” Shrum said during the announcement at OSU Discovery in Oklahoma City’s Innovation District. “When we mentor students, we open the door to them to thinking about their potential in a different way and inspire them to dream big. Our ultimate hope is that they go into a STEM career and take a job at Tinker Air Force Base, Department of Defense or working for a national laboratory.”

Paul Tikalsky, dean of OSU’s College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology, said 374 applications were submitted for the grants and 15 were awarded. OSU and Harvard were the only two universities awarded grants.

The $6 million will be administered over the next four years to scale up K-8 STEM summer camps, after-school programs, tutoring, mentoring and teacher training, Tikalsky said.

The students and teachers in the three school districts that surround OSU Discovery – Millwood, Midwest City-Del City and Oklahoma City – will be the largest partners in the program. Together they have close to 55,000 students who “are in the ideal position to address the future of Tinker’s Air Logistics Center,” Tikalsky said.

“We will be preparing students to consider a pathway that strengthens our national capabilities in engineering and innovation,” he said. “The students from these three school districts that advance to grade-level math and science competencies and enroll in OSU … the College of Engineering will give them a freshman scholarship to cover their tuition.”

The grant also will help young people across the state to advance in STEM competencies and the potential for work in Oklahoma’s aerospace, energy and manufacturing industries, he said.

Tikalsky introduced “the person who is actually going to make all this happen” – Jovette Dew, an OSU vice president and engineer who has been named director of the K-12 STEM programs to lead the initiative.

“I am delighted to carry out the vision of Dean Tilkalsy, the Department of Defense, community and industry leaders, and schools who are dedicated to teach young people about STEM,” Dew said. “We want young people, even as early as first-graders, to know engineering is everywhere and it’s in everything that we do.”

The goal is for students to see themselves in STEM careers when they grow up and “to know that good jobs are right here in Oklahoma and in our own backyard,” she said.

Wade Wolfe, vice director of Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex, said Tinker Air Force Base employs 10,500 people, many of them civilians. As of Monday, there were 153 vacancies for high-paying engineering positions, Wolfe said.

A beginning engineer today in Oklahoma will be earning $77,000 to $90,000 in four to five years, he said.

OKCPS Superintendent Sean McDaniel said he and the other two districts’ superintendents are grateful and excited about this chance to expose students to STEM.

“We appreciate this opportunity more than I can say,” McDaniel said. “It will allow our kids to do some things that they otherwise probably could not do.”

U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas, ranking member of the Space, Science and Technology Committee, said STEM education is one the highest priorities for the future economy of the country. Demand for STEM skills and opportunities in science are growing both at home and around the world faster than any other sector, he said.

“Whoever leads in science and technology sets the rules of the road for decades to come in this world,” said Lucas, R-Cheyenne. “And we want that road to begin in Oklahoma.”

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