By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2018, The Oklahoman
It’s always eye-opening to gain a fresh perspective on something you think you know so well.
Janet Neufeld, Ed.D., whose 35-year career in public education started in Kansas and ranges from guidance counselor to superintendent of schools, came to the Oklahoma School of Science and Math (OSSM) this year as vice president for academic services.
In her first weeks at OSSM, Dr. Neufeld has made it top priority to meet with students one-on-one.
“The thing that strikes me most,” she said, “is how many of these students talk about needing access to higher-level, expanded coursework in their home schools. They are giving up two years of their high school lives, leaving their friends, community, and families because they seek the opportunity to be more academically challenged by college course work.”
Something else that’s notable about OSSM — students are about 50-50 male and female.
“It’s really empowering to women who want to go into STEM,” Neufeld said. “One of the reasons the female students come here is they know they can find their place to access higher-level science and math courses.”
And diversity doesn’t stop with gender. OSSM students come from widely different socioeconomic backgrounds. They come from farms, cities, and towns. They are of different races and different faiths. They are different culturally.
Because their backgrounds are so diverse, Neufeld says the school is a melting pot and a good training ground on diversity in college and perspectives at a younger level.
“The binding factor they share,” she said, “is a love of science and math. They come from all different directions with one shared passion.”
Many OSSM graduates stick with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers. They become scientists, doctors, computer science experts, and engineers. It’s also eye-opening how many students are interested in history, humanities, and writing. At least one plans on being president (or at least a key adviser to the president), and another plans to be the first trillionaire. (As the first trillionaire likely has been born, maybe he’s the one.)
OSSM students and their families are connecting to a much bigger picture, I agree with Dr. Neufeld when she says it’s humbling to recognize their foresight and commitment to education and to the career opportunities that the OSSM experience prepares students to achieve.
Any Oklahoma student can apply to OSSM. OSSM is free. Many young people there are gifted in science and math. The rigor is intense, and OSSM may not be a fit for every student.
Yet, I feel certain that there are more students in Oklahoma who would be a fit and would benefit amazingly from attending OSSM. I challenge their teachers and families to help them explore the school and apply.
Regardless, what is a fit for every Oklahoma student, from kindergarten to twelfth grade, is more STEM education. If we value Oklahoma’s young people and want to help prepare them — and Oklahoma — for a bright economic future, the answer is STEM and more STEM.
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 [email protected].