By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2017, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
There are many good reasons that students and parents would choose to participate in the Oklahoma School of Science and Math (OSSM) regional center program.
Jobs are at the top of my list — good jobs that build toward meaningful careers and earnings.
More than half of today’s occupations require some degree of technical skills, including many jobs that do not require college degrees. STEM-related jobs (science, technology, engineering, and math) are the fastest growing U.S. occupations at 17 percent, with others growing at about half that rate.
Annual salaries for STEM-related jobs average are about 40 percent more than non-STEM jobs, and even if a student doesn’t go into a STEM career, problem-solving is one of the top three soft skills that employers across all sectors are looking for.
And the reasons for more STEM go beyond future jobs. The OSSM centers create a sense of community for like-minded high school students who take their coursework and college prep seriously. The three hours per day of OSSM’s rigorous science and math curriculum helps them earn college AP credits and improved ACT scores.
Students take General Physics, AP Calculus BC (equivalent to two semesters of college calculus), and AP Physics C: Mechanics (a calculus-based physics class).
“If students score well on AP tests (most schools will give credit for a 3 out of 5 score), they could gain as much as 10 to 12 hours of college credit that’s practically free,” said Tony Cornforth, calculus and physics teacher at the OSSM regional center housed on the campus of Mid-America Technology Center in Wayne.
Mastering the subject matter and developing rigorous problem-solving skills help students achieve higher results on their ACT tests. The average gain across the 206 students in Cornforth’s classes over the last 10 years has been 3 points per year; that’s quite a bit since the top ACT score is 36. The largest gain has been 11 points.
Cornforth, who grew up in a very small town in northwest Oklahoma, said something that I can’t get off my mind.
“In high school, I did everything they told me to do,” he said. “I was valedictorian, but within the first four weeks of college I failed a math and a science test. I don’t want any rural kid from Oklahoma to go through that overwhelming feeling of failing and not being prepared. I want them to have a rigorous experience in high school and be ready for college from the first day.”
Are these OSSM classes challenging? Of course, they are. Are there plenty of students in Oklahoma’s regular high schools who deserve this type of college and life preparation and are up to the task? Of course, there are.
Parents and educators, let’s promote this learning opportunity for Oklahoma’s youth and make a real difference in some young people’s lives.
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. Contact Meacham at [email protected].