By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2015 The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
One of the most exciting things that’s happened in Oklahoma recently is the construction of the General Electric Global Research Center right across the way from the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics.
GE Global Research hires some of the best talent in the world. More than two-thirds of the employees at this new center will have Ph.D. or equivalent degrees, and some of the researchers have as many as 200 patents.
This center highlights some of the exciting career opportunities right here in Oklahoma that await students who graduate in technical disciplines. The center will be another attraction for Oklahoma’s best and brightest talent to stay in Oklahoma after they graduate, or to return to the state if they’ve been studying or working somewhere else.
The GE Foundation has donated, through OCAST, $400,000 to support STEM initiatives across Oklahoma, including the STEM Empowers OK Summer Science Academy, a weeklong summer program at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics attended by nearly 50 students from under-represented populations.
“These kids had a ball,” said Lori A. Webster, the school’s director of public information. “They chose the classes they wanted to take. They went on field trips. One of the things that they liked most was that engineers from GE came over to OSSM every day to help with an engineering challenge.”
On the first afternoon, GE engineers placed a mixture of vegetable oil and coffee grounds on the floor and some empty cups on the table above.
They put out tubes, coffee filters, duct tape, mason jars and red plastic cups. To meet the challenge, students (in randomly selected teams) had to design a system for lifting the oil to table and filtering out the coffee grounds to get the cleanest and most oil into cups on the table without any spills. They worked on the challenge all week.
“We tried out many designs and ideas,” said Ingrid Gao, a student from Stillwater whose team won the challenge and new iPads.
“Most of them failed,” she said. “We found the best solution after many trials and errors. I kind of drew the design and we brainstormed and built it together.”
If that doesn’t sound like innovation and entrepreneurship, what does? Now Ingrid is a first-year student at the school of science and math.
There are many ways to engage more of our young people in STEM. Expanding exposure to science through the STEM Academy is one.
From helping a fourth-grader build a Mentos rocket, to attracting a Stillwater sophomore who likes math enough to take on the promise of the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, to providing world-class opportunities in research at GE, it’s all about inspiring and feeding a pipeline of STEM talent that encourages talent in Oklahoma to become increasingly technical so we can increasingly innovate.
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 [email protected].