By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2019, The Oklahoman
Regardless of the state you live in or where your children go to school, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills are the key to career opportunities today and will be exponentially more important over the next five years.
In Oklahoma, as in every other state, we need to be doing everything we can to imbed STEM in school curriculum from kindergarten to Ph.D. programs. In this mission, we have some unique resources.
For 50 years, Oklahoma State University and NASA have had a partnership to open up STEM to thousands of students and educators throughout the United States. OSU first started working with the Johnson Space Center in 1969 sending former math and science teachers in “spacemobiles” to grade schools and high schools in eight states from Texas to the Dakotas, telling the exciting story of NASA’s space discovery.
From there, the program grew in scope and participation, with one of the most exciting recent programs being student lessons that include communicating with astronauts in space.
About a year ago, a new initiative was started up with the specific goal of stirring STEM passion in underserved communities. Dr. Susan Stansberry, OSU, is the principal investigator of the NASA grant that enabled the NASA STEM Pathway Activities — Consortium for Education (NSPACE).
OSU has teamed with the Center for Sovereign Nations, Langston University, Northern Oklahoma College, 4H, the 13-campus Texas A&M University system and Technology for Learning Consortium. The goal of this group is reach underrepresented populations and help them take advantage of the STEM experiences offered through NSPACE.
Since Ptolemy and Galileo, the sun and the moon and the sky and the stars have fascinated human beings. President Kennedy’s space challenge in the ’60s inspired generations to dream, strive and invent. Decades after the first astronauts “took that giant step for mankind” there remains today something very magical about space travel.
Have a conversation with virtually any STEM teacher or any student and they will tell you that the best way to get young people interested in biology, chemistry or computer programming is to give them hands-on learning opportunities that are tied to real world experience — the earlier the better.
NSPACE is proof-positive. Arming teachers with extra training and tools, during its inaugural year, NSPACE touched 63,000 educators and 123,000 students, connecting diverse audiences across 45 states to STEM.
Space explorations captures people’s imaginations, teaches us how we need to be delivering science and makes us think (no matter how young or old we are) about tackling big challenges and big exploits that we may have thought were impossible.
When it comes to getting young people fired up about STEM, what’s more inspiring, trying to learn the skills needed to develop a math equation, or trying to learn how to build a vehicle to get to Mars?
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.