By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2018, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
At current course and speed, the U.S. is expected to need at least a million more STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workers over the next decade than the current pipeline will produce.
Focusing just on Oklahoma, recent statistics show that in our state, from 2010 to 2016, there were already an average of 15 STEM-related jobs advertised online for every unemployed STEM worker.
With STEM opportunities growing almost twice as fast as other positions, many of the best jobs will go to high school and college graduates who are STEM-literate. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to major in computer science or earn a Ph.D., but it does mean that problem-solving skills and an appetite and aptitude for technology can be key to greater opportunity.
How do we better prepare Oklahoma’s children for this reality?
Research says that children need STEM exposure as early as possible to gain fluency. Think of it like learning a language; early exposure to math and science may have a bigger impact on students’ intent to major in STEM.
The K20 Center for Educational and Community Renewal, which is housed at the University of Oklahoma, is rooted in the big idea that building collaborative partnerships among K-12 schools and higher education, business, community and government entities (local, state and federal) can develop technology-enriched learning communities that share best practices and benefit from the practical application of educational research.
The center, which has been in existence for nearly 25 years, started accelerating about 15 years ago with a grant that supplied technology to qualifying schools. Since then, it has become a leader in professional development, innovation in education, and authentic student instruction in STEM.
K20 meets teachers and students where they are to advance STEM instruction in our state.
“One of our key tenets is authentic teaching and learning,” said Leslie Williams, Ph.D. and director of the K20 Center. “It’s about problem-solving, moving toward students being more actively engaged and involved in hands-on, real-world experiences, guided by focused conversations grounded in the use of essential questions.”
The K20 Center has worked with school leaders in all 77 Oklahoma counties, in more than 1,000 schools providing professional development and authentic teaching for more than 19,000 teachers and impacting more than a quarter of a million K-12 students.
Increasing the opportunity for STEM education for all of Oklahoma’s children is everyone’s job, and K20 is dedicated to that responsibility.
I serve on the K20 Center’s Board of Advocates. As Oklahoma’s parents and students are preparing for a new academic year, I will be writing more about the programs and initiatives that are available free from the K20 Center to educators and students across Oklahoma in the hope that more schools, teachers and students will take advantage of this great resource.
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].