Best description of Oklahoma School of Science and Math: awesome
By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2015 The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Awesome. That’s the word that best describes the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics (OSSM). This school has a 24-year history of being “awesome.”
As of the end of 2014, 1,407 OSSM graduates have received $123 million in scholarship offers. This group includes 380 National Merit Finalists — that’s an average of 15 a year, or more than 20 percent of each OSSM graduating class.
But here’s the mesmerizing stat: Nearly 85 percent of OSSM alumni pursue collegiate study and professional careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.
Compare that with the results of a recent study conducted by RTI International of high performing college students who began pursuing a bachelor’s degree in STEM between 2003 and 2009.
Researchers found that about one-quarter of the students entered STEM disciplines, but that nearly one-third of those students — top performers, not failures — transferred out of STEM fields to some other major.
The group’s research results indicate that intensity of STEM coursework in the first year and the missed opportunity to gain early momentum discouraged students from sticking with STEM.
But when you talk with OSSM graduates, they’ll tell you that after two years at OSSM, first-year college STEM classes “just aren’t that hard.”
That’s because when a student graduates from OSSM, he or she already has completed at least first year college-level work in STEM disciplines with an intensity and immersion that’s college-equivalent.
There’s solid proof that OSSM knows how to take the seeds of a young person’s interest in math or science and grow career STEM professionals.
This summer, OSSM tried something new — a fee-based summer academy for ninth- through eleventh-graders.
The one-week academy was open to students from across the state. They could board in an OSSM dorm or commute. OSSM graduates served as dorm counselors.
Fifty-five academy “campers” enjoyed plenty of charades and cookouts and games of capture the flag and water balloons. They took field trips to the science museum and to Main Event.
But they also attended classes taught by OSSM Ph.D.s in video game design and applications of chemistry in our everyday life. They had a “first peek and gentle introduction to calculus.” They learned about the sun and the sky and “fast and fuzzy physics.” They learned how to write a college essay that pops.
In short, they had a ball. Camp relationships are special. Some of them made new friends for life.
Through the summer academy, OSSM attracted some students who might not have applied otherwise. And that’s terrific.
But here’s where Oklahoma really strikes oil.
Many of the academy campers won’t embrace STEM with the intensity of the OSSM curriculum.
But they did come away from this experience learning that science and math can be exciting, real world and fun.
They saw that STEM isn’t just for geniuses. It’s cool for regular kids.
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.