By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2018, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
I received a call from a reporter from HBO’s “Vice News” recently asking my perspective on President Donald Trump’s announcement that Oklahoma’s Kelvin Droegemeier is his choice to lead the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
The White House Office of Science and Technology has a broad mandate and has advised past presidents on issues that range from dealing with the Ebola outbreak to the potential of precision medicine to the impact of drones and driverless cars. Once confirmed by the Senate, Droegemeier will be filling this much-needed position that has been vacant for almost 20 months, the longest ever since the Office of Science and Technology was authorized.
So, what did I tell the reporter? I said, emphatically, that this is a great appointment — for the White House, for science, and for Oklahoma — that the president had made a perfect choice.
Droegemeier, an outstanding meteorologist, has impeccable professional credentials and a well-earned international reputation in both private and public roles. His first name, Kelvin, is even a scientific term.
He is vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma and regents’ professor of meteorology, as well as our state’s cabinet secretary of science and technology. From 2004-2016, under both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, he served on the National Science Board (the entity that sets the policies of the National Science Foundation). For his last four years on the Board, Kelvin was vice chair.
I became acquainted with Kelvin on the Governor’s Science and Technology Council. We served together as members and, then, Kelvin, became our chair when he was named Gov. Mary Fallin’s cabinet secretary for science and technology.
By bringing in this scientist who is so well-respected by his peers, the administration creates a bridge into the scientific community, a connection that, so far, hasn’t been all that strong. Scientists across the country have endorsed this nomination with a huge hurrah.
The selection of Droegemeier shows just how interrelated the roles of government, private sector, and academia are when it comes to building an innovation economy. Back in the eighties, Kelvin and his associates at OU had a vision of applying computer weather prediction models to narrow weather forecasting down from a broad area with few details to predicting major thunderstorms and their potential impact on a particular geography. It was a seismic shift in how weather systems were predicted.
Not only is Kelvin a champion of scientific research, he is an advocate of moving discovery from the labs into the real world to help real people. In 1999, Kelvin and associates founded Weather Decisions Technologies. The then startup attracted federal grants, support and investment of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, investment from i2E and co-investors.
Today Weather Decision Technologies is a 100-employee company with about $7 million in revenue. About 95 percent of that revenue comes from outside the state, leading to an 18-year, cumulative, $350 million in economic impact to Oklahoma.
In science, “Kelvin” is a unit of temperature measurement. There are only positive numbers (no negatives) on the Kelvin scale.
That’s the way I’m looking at the impact that Kelvin Droegemeier can have as the head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Only positive.
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 i2E_Comments@i2E.org.