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Gear from Ada plant protects Oklahoma City firefighters and their counterparts across the globe November 18, 2019

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Globe Manufacturing plant manager Jannette Orr shows off a firefighters jacket under construction for the Oklahoma City Fire Department

Editor’s note: I recently traveled to Ada with my friends at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, where we had the opportunity to tour a plant that makes “turnout” gear for firefighters across the world.  This is my report:

By Jim Stafford

ADA – Jannette Orr stood on MSA’s Globe turnout gear manufacturing floor in Ada and held up a firefighter coat that was under construction at the plant.

Bright yellow letters on the back read “OKLA CITY.”

Globe’s Ada plant and its 48 employees are producing 510 sets of three-layer firefighter jackets and pants for the Oklahoma City Fire Department, said Roger Page, Operations Manager for Globe’s three production facilities in Ada, Okla., Pittsfield, N.H. and Auburn, Maine.

“Recently, we reacquired the Oklahoma City contract,” Page said as he led me and colleagues from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) on a tour of the Ada production plant.

“Oklahoma City had previously been in our gear, and we’re excited to have them back,” he said.

Globe was founded in 1887 as a family-owned producer of protective clothing for firefighters and headquartered in Pittsfield, N.H. It was acquired in July 2017 by MSA Safety Inc., a publicly traded corporation headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Globe opened the Ada plant almost 16 years ago.

“We were having a really hard time hiring enough workers in the Pittsfield area, and we learned that Wrangler was leaving this area and had a very similar weight of fabric to that which we use,” said Page, who has worked for Globe for 36 years. “We decided to explore this area, and the Ada Jobs Foundation did a great job, almost recruiting us.”

Coalgate native Orr was among the former Wrangler employees who migrated to Globe, starting on the production floor as a stitcher. Today she is the plant manager, and personally trains new hires on the complexities of running sophisticated machinery.”

“Our workforce here is doing great,” Orr said. “We try to start them off on the right track. They work hard and steady. We make sure they have good benefits, because the employees here are like family.”

Globe uses what is known as the Toyota Sewing System in Ada to assemble the firefighter suits. It’s a manufacturing philosophy that began in Japan and moves each garment from station to station.

“As you look around the facility here, everything is done in single piece flow, with standup operations and more machines than there are people because they bump their operations as they go through the cell,” Page said. “It makes the operations a lot more flexible, and the workers aren’t stuck in one spot doing the same thing all day.”

Globe produces two of its seven styles of “turnout gear” or “bunker gear” – insider speak for firefighter protective apparel – at the Ada plant. Each firefighter garment has three layers that consist of an outer shell, a thermal liner and a moisture barrier.

“We have a host of options that can go on those base garments,” Page said. “For example, we have over 400 different sizes of radio pockets alone.”

Globe’s operation has benefited by a relationship with the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, which is a partner with OCAST in the Oklahoma Innovation Model that provides assistance to small manufacturers and new ventures across the state.

“I’m just really impressed with the amount of effort that Oklahoma puts into supporting manufacturers, whether it’s the Ada Jobs Foundation, the Pontotoc Technology Center training center or the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance,” Page said. “All of that is phenomenal.”

In addition to Oklahoma City, Globe produces garments for firefighters in numerous other Oklahoma communities. Ada’s proximity to Oklahoma City afforded the city’s fire department an opportunity to eyeball their equipment under construction, Page said.

“It’s only fitting to be able to produce Oklahoma City’s firefighting gear an hour and a half away here in Ada,” he said. “They are excited to come down and watch their gear being built and meet the people building it.”

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).

Don’t criticize me! Steve Jobs shows how to respond to criticism November 12, 2019

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I’ve never responded particularly well to criticism.  I tend to have an instant reaction and lash out at the person providing the critique with words that I regret.  It’s something that I’m aware of and have to guard against constantly.

But it seems that I never handle it as well as I should. Call it a character flaw (among many).

Anyway, I saw this clip of Steve Jobs responding to an insulting question from an audience member at a 1997 developers conference. The guy wanted to show that Jobs didn’t know what he was talking about as far as software programming, along with a second question on what he had been doing the past seven years.

Jobs’ response blows me away. Instead of becoming angry and hurling an insult back at the guy (as I almost certainly would have), he sat and thought for several seconds. You can see that the wheels are turning as he formulates his answer and responds initially with a cliche about pleasing some of the people some of the time.  His long answer actually provided insight into why Apple developed products as it did.

Finally, he responds directly to the insult by admitting that he sometimes doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that mistakes will be made. At least someone is making some decisions for the company, he told the audience.  

Jobs’ response seems heartfelt and honest. It’s something I hope I can emulate in the future.  

I invite you to click on the video and watch Jobs respond to the insult.  I hope you find it as inspiring as I do.

 

A salute to our veterans and the Veterans Day Parade November 11, 2019

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The Purple Heart recipients float at the Fort Chaffee Veterans Day parade

My dad was a small town Southern boy from western Arkansas who built a successful career in the U.S. Army across three decades. As I understand the story, it began when he quit high school in the late 1940s and joined the Army.

For that, he earned a tour of duty in Alaska. But he missed a girl from back home in Booneville, Ark., and mustered out when his commitment was up.

He returned to Arkansas, married the girl and had a child – me – within a year. But running the local gas station wasn’t enough to support a family, so he re-upped in the Army.

This tour lasted until he retired from the military in 1976 and included assignments in Korea, Okinawa and 1969 Vietnam along the way.

I provide all that background because I was over in Fort Smith this past weekend to visit my widowed Mom. She told me she wanted to go to the annual Veterans Day parade at Ft. Chaffee that began at noon on Saturday.

The crowd lines the Veterans Day Parade route

I said ‘sure,’ although without any real enthusiasm or expectations. We picked up my niece, Katy, and headed out to Chaffee, most of which is now known as Chaffee Crossing and under development by the city of Fort Smith.

We found a place to park and walked to what turned out to be sort of Parade Central, which was right outside the military barbershop where Elvis received his haircut as he was inducted into the Army. It’s now a pretty fascinating little museum, which we toured.

For me, the interesting thing about the parade, which lasted about an hour, was watching the crowd and how the veterans among us reacted when various elements marched by. Local Junior ROTC troops marched by carrying American flags, and the vets snapped to attention.

My Mom watches the Veterans Day Parade.

Those marching in the parade were quick to say “thank you” to the veterans they recognized along the way who were wearing caps or other insignia that identified them as such.

It was a feel good event for both participants and onlookers, punctuated by a large group of motorcyclists who brought up the rear of the parade, came to a halt and dismounted as we watched. The leader commanded us to turn our attention the America flag behind us and led the Pledge of Allegiance.

Turned out, I enjoyed the parade and the people watching. I was so happy that I got to take my mom to see it, even if she decided that it wasn’t as long as the previous parade she attended two years ago. (“There were so many more antique cars in the last parade,” she told me.)

So, to Master Sergeant Archie A.J. Stafford and all your fellow veterans, I salute you and your incredible sacrifice for this country.

OCAST Health Research Conference puts focus on negotiating regulatory pathway to market October 23, 2019

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Dan Clark, cofounder and president of Linear Health Sciences speaks to the recent OCAST Health Research Conference

Editor’s note: I attended the 32nd  OCAST Health Research conference at the Samis Education Center on the Oklahoma Health Center campus, and heard a presentation on negotiating the regulatory pathway for a life science device company. Here’s my report:

By Jim Stafford

Once a year, the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) gathers scientists from across the state who are currently receiving funding from its health research program in a sort of show-and-tell educational event.

Recently, about 100 OCAST-funded life science researchers assembled at the Samis Family Education Center on the Oklahoma Health Center campus for OCAST’s 32nd Health Research Conference. The event featured a keynote presentation from Dan Clark, president of Oklahoma City-based Linear Health Sciences.

Co-founded by Clark and Oklahoma City physician Ryan Dennis, Linear Health Sciences developed a patented device known as the Orchid Safety Release Valve (SRV), which prevents dislodgement of IV catheters in hospitalized patients. It is estimated that approximately 14 percent of all IV catheters are accidentally dislodged, which requires re-sticking patients and creates higher risks of infection.

“Our device is designed to mitigate that,” Clark said. “The concept is quite simple. If you’ve ever seen someone drive away from a gas station with the hose still in the car, the hose rips away from the terminal, but no gas is spewing from the terminal and no gas is coming out of the car.

“We did the same thing, but we did it for your veins.”

The Orchid Safety Release Valve has drawn interest from both potential hospital users and investors alike.

Linear Health Sciences attracted early seed investment from i2E Inc., a partner with OCAST in what has come to be known as the Oklahoma Innovation Model of supporting entrepreneurs and innovation across the state.

“We see a really big opportunity here,” said Carol Curtis, i2E’s vice president and director of investments. “If we can improve patient outcomes through the device, but also capture a good portion of the market, it’s a win for investors as well as patients, physicians and the health care system.”

Clark’s presentation to his audience of scientists focused on how Linear Health’s founders learned from their experiences as they negotiated the challenging regulatory pathway.

“The context of our device is not difficult to understand, but to put it into practice, all the way from design inputs and strategy to validating those inputs to traceability across all the different elements, that was tough,” he said. “We became students again.”

Linear Health has submitted what is known as a 510(K) application to the Food and Drug Administration, which is a premarket submission to demonstrate that its device is safe and effective. The company is relying on the expertise of contracted outside experts to help it navigate the regulatory challenges of advancing its medical device.

Clark’s advice to his audience of scientists hoping to advance their own concepts centered on utilizing contractors and external resources to manage the regulatory challenges that will confront them and shape their decisions.

“While you are designing your own experiments, your regulatory path is going to dictate what experiments and what understanding of methodologies is required to get there,” he said.

Clark said Linear Health anticipates FDA regulatory clearance of its device early next year, after which the Orchid Release Safety Valve should soon reach early adopters waiting to put it to use.

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).

Oka’ Water Sustainability Conference explores economic value of H2O October 22, 2019

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From left: Ken Wagner, State Environment Sec.; Speaker of the House Charles McCall; & Brent Kisling, Exec. Director of OK Dept. of Commerce. ⁦

By Jim Stafford

Editor’s note: I recently attended the Oka’ Water Sustainability Conference at the invitation of my friends at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST). Here is what I learned from the conference:

ADA – At the recent 2019 Oka’ Water Sustainability Conference here on the campus of East Central University, the economic value of water bubbled to the surface.

Water is an economic driver for the state of Oklahoma, said Susan Paddack, executive director Oka’, the Water Institute at East Center University, which presented the fourth annual Sustainability Conference.

“We talk about quality and we talk about the quantity, but we don’t often talk about the value of water,” Paddack said. “When you think about water, it is either an economic stimulator or it is a limiter. We cannot grow or prosper as a state or rural communities and water districts if we don’t have a sustainable water future.”

Oka’ is the Chickasaw word for water, and the Oka’ Institute was created in 2016 with support from the Chickasaw Nation, the Ada Jobs Foundation and the City of Ada.

The conference focused on innovators and technologies that are creating new ways to remediate and recycle polluted water, the importance of soil health and ways to protect key water resources such as the Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer and Blue River.

But this year’s conference also tackled the issue of Water as an Economic Driver with a panel discussion that featured a trio of state legislative, environmental and economic development leaders brought their perspectives to the topic.

Katricia Pierson, Ph.D., East Central University president, moderated the panel, which featured Ken Wagner, State Environment Sec.; Speaker of the House Charles McCall; & Brent Kisling, Exec. Director of OK Dept. of Commerce.

“If you don’t recognize water as the most valuable resources we have in this state, you need to reconsider your position,” McCall told the audience. “Water will always be an economic driver in the sate of Oklahoma. We have been very blessed with it and we have to be very careful not to squander it.”

Kisling hails from the northwest Oklahoma community of Burlington, an area of the state where the scarcity of rainfall makes water conservation a critical ongoing issue. As the former economic development director of the city of Enid, he organized a consortium of neighboring communities to tackle water issues through a coordinated water plan.

“We have to all work together, especially in a watershed, to make sure we are maintaining our water resources on the quantity side and on the quality side,” Kisling said. “Now there is a consortium of major water users that communicate each month about what’s going on with water in the northwest part of the state.”

Wagner plays a key role in setting policy that ensures the protection of water resources throughout the state, while meeting the water consumption needs of people and businesses alike.

“We have to balance, how do we protect the resource but help these communities sustain their way of life, from creating jobs to ensuring the recreational capacity, making sure that fish and wildlife can thrive, protecting our scenic rivers, protecting our aquifers,” Wagner said, “knowing all the while that we all need water to sustain life.”

The conference was highlighted by a keynote speech by Bill Anoatubby, Governor of the Chickasaw Nation, who described the Oka’ Institute as “real positive development” to water sustainability in the south central Oklahoma region.

“The Oka’ Institute has a deep understanding that water issues affect us all and that it will take us all working together to develop viable, long-term solutions to water sustainability,” Anoatubby said. “Health and sustainability of our water is vital to everyone’s future and reasons to work together for the benefit of all.”

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).

Oklahoma’s Saab story: a prophecy fulfilled October 8, 2019

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I hope you saw this story in Monday’s editions of The Oklahoman about the Saab Group, a Swedish Aerospace firm, reportedly passing on Oklahoma as the location to build a new military trainer jet because of workforce concerns.

If you didn’t read it, click this link to catch you up to date: 

The reporting by Oklahoman reporter Dale Denwalt made the words of Oklahoma City businessman Phil Busey seem almost prophetic. The story quoted State Sen. Adam Pugh, who said that the Saab Group decided it would not be able to find enough skilled workers to sustain its workforce at an Oklahoma location.

Saab reportedly wanted to know if it could find people to work at the plant. ‘In the end, they decided they couldn’t, and so they’re taking their business somewhere else,’ state Sen. Adam Pugh told members of Leadership Oklahoma at a recent aerospace forum.

Busey is founder and CEO of a company called Delaware Resource Group (DRG), minority-owned aerospace industry federal defense contractor. DRG employs upwards of 700 people, including software engineers, worldwide who support contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as major aerospace companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Mr. Busey along with Debbie Cox, my colleague from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST). Our interview was the basis for an OCAST video and a column I wrote on behalf of the agency. You can read it and watch the video interview here. 

We were surprised by the urgency that Busey showed in advocating for an improvement in public education and workforce development across our state.

Phil Busey

“Our challenges really come back to the issues of workforce development,” Busey told us. “Public education is the No. 1 challenging issue we see here in Oklahoma.”

Thousands of aerospace positions in the state remain unfilled because there aren’t enough Oklahomans equipped with STEM skills – science, technology, education and mathematics, Busey said.

That means that we need to build a deeper pool of young Oklahomans equipped with STEM skills that are critical to the sustainability of the state’s aerospace industry.

But it goes beyond workforce development, he said. It’s also about the image of our state that is reflected in legislation like the recent open carry law that allows virtually anyone in Oklahoma to carry a gun without a license or shooter education.

“The challenge is that we are having to rebrand ourselves,” Busey said. “The social legislation issues, the open carry issues and the public education issues all have to be addressed. Because people really don’t understand who we are … We have to talk to them about what our culture is really like, who we are, what kind of values we have, that we are inclusive, that we have all types of development going on with MAPS and the successes we have had downtown.”

The bottom line is that there are currently between 1,500 and 2,000 open positions here in Oklahoma in the high paying aerospace industry. We have to fill that pipeline.

Busey has organized his own working group of community, education and business leaders to brainstorm ways to enhance Oklahoma’s workforce development and improve our image.

“We’re trying to develop pipelines with our universities,” Busey said. “And then be able to talk with people who we need to recruit from outside Oklahoma that it is a good place to live. We all don’t walk around with 45s on our hips. Public education, we have to do something to improve that. It is a deal breaker.”

What is Blockchain for Business? OKC conference provides some context September 24, 2019

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Alan Dickman, IBM Blockchain Architect, delivers a primer on Blockchain for Business to an audience of OKC business leaders.

Editor’s note: I was invited by my friends at OCAST to attend the recent Blockchain for Business conference here in OKC. This is what I wrote about the experience and what I learned from the event about a subject that I know very little about.

By Jim Stafford

There is a huge gulf between the emerging blockchain-for-business technology and the cryptocurrency world, a group of 150 Oklahoma business leaders learned at the recent Blockchain for Business conference at the Baker Hughes/GE Energy Innovation Center.

The blockchain primer delivered to the Oklahoma audience by Alan Dickman, IBM Blockchain Architect, contrasted the two computing networks that are often confused for one another.

“Blockchain is really just a shared, distributed ledger that helps record transactions,” Dickman said in his keynote presentation. “Blockchain facilitates business processes that are shared among a network that is using the same ledger.”

What blockchain-for-business is not is a giant, worldwide computing network that requires every member of the network, or peer, to update their blockchain file with each transaction, Dickman said.

“That sounds like Bitcoin, where there are lots and lots of peers around the world, and what you are doing is updating each ledger,” he said. “Only a small number of blockchains have that infrastructure.”

Blockchain-for-business can limit the number of peers, and requires that each participant be identified and invited to the network. Transactions are recorded as an “immutable” record that can never be altered.

In contrast, Cryptocurrency networks are known as “permission-less,” which means that participation is unlimited. Participants can remain anonymous. The “permission-less” networks can grow unwieldy and consume large amounts of energy as each transaction is updated.

“You can have permission blockchains where you put up your own private networks,” Dickman said. “So, it depends on the use case and depends on the technology and whether you are using a permission or permission-less blockchain.”

The Blockchain for Business conference was presented by OG&E and IBM, with support from the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber; the Oklahoma Department of Commerce; the Oklahoma City Innovation District; the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST); the Tom Love Innovation Hub at the University of Oklahoma; Baker Hughes, a GE Company, the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance; Zilker Technology LLC.; and the Energy Web Foundation.

“From OG&E’s perspective, the business purpose of this conference was two-fold,” said Richard Cornelison, economic development manager for OG&E. “We wanted to bring a better understanding of technology, and ways to communicate to the communities we serve and into the companies we serve.”

The conference featured breakout sessions for energy industry users, government, health care and supply chain, and oil and gas.

“Blockchain is one of those emerging, potentially enabling technologies that has the capability of impacting our economy,” said Mark Ballard, programs officer with OCAST. “We’re interested in this technology because it can give businesses another opportunity to compete more effectively in the economy.”

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).

Plumbing the limits of home repair Sticker Shock September 11, 2019

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The Hi-Tech Plumbing & Leak Detect truck parked in front of my house is a familiar site.

We had Hi-Tech Plumbing & Leak Detect out at our house (again) today to replace our kitchen sink and faucet, as well as repair a leak in the drain beneath the sink.  I almost choked when they told me what the cost would be to do the work.  

But I told them to go ahead, because, well, what else are we going to do?

We’ve had Hi-Tech out many times over the years, in part because of the awful polybutylene piping used on this house when it was built in 1989.  We sprang so many leaks over the years that we finally had all the hot-water run through the attic, bypassing the polybutylene pipes beneath the foundation. 

We used Hi-Tech on that project, of course, and it cost several thousand dollars.  Same thing on a recent hot water heater install.

You might ask why I keep going back to Hi-Tech if they are so expensive.  The reason is that we know that they will do a thorough job with nothing left incomplete.  Not once have we had to call them back out to redo a job.   

But the price we pay is still so embarrassingly high. While I do have confidence in Hi-Tech, I feel as though I’m being ripped off in the process. 

I think it’s called buyer’s remorse.

My question for readers is what has been your experience with plumbers and what are my alternatives for future issues?  

 

 

OK-WISE panel: Internships provide entry into Aerospace industry for young women September 3, 2019

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Panelists in a Women Impacting Aerospace discussion are (from left): Heather McDowell, OCAST, Alexis Higgins, CEO of the Tulsa International Airport; Brenda Rolls, Ph.D., CEO of Frontier Electronic Systems; Sara Shmalo, material and process engineer at Spirit Aerosystems; and Haley Marie Keith, CEO of MITO Material Solutions

 

Editor’s note: I was invited by my friends at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology to attend the recent OK-WISE conference in Tulsa, where I sat in on a couple of panel discussions.  The topic of internships as a way to gain experience and an entry into the Aerospace industry (and others!) caught my attention.  So, I filed this report.

TULSA – Heather McDowell shared some bleak industry employment numbers as moderator during a panel discussion entitled Women Impacting Aerospace at the recent 2019 OK-WISE conference at the Hyatt Regency Tulsa.

The conference focused on helping women advance their careers in STEM fields such as cybersecurity, manufacturing, technology and economic empowerment.

“We see statistics all the time about STEM industry and how women are under represented in this field,” said McDowell, associate director of Programs at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST).

“Overall, about 25 percent of our workforce are women, but particularly in aerospace only about 10 percent of the workforce are women,” she said. “How can we get more women involved in aerospace?”

The OK-WISE – Women Impacting STEM & Entrepreneurship – conference was produced by the Oklahoma Catalyst Programs that is headquartered at the Tom Love Innovation Hub at the University of Oklahoma. Organizers sought to inspire and encourage an audience of about 300 women aspiring to STEM careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or entrepreneurship.

So, how did the panel of female aerospace professionals answer McDowell’s questions of bringing more women into the industry?  

Internships can be an important component to bringing more women into aerospace – and any STEM profession — panelists suggested.

And that can begin with high school, students, said Sara Shmalo, material and process engineer at Spirit Aerosystems in Tulsa.

“One of the things that Spirit does is we partner with high schools and started bringing in high school students who have a passion for aviation,” Shmalo said. “They can watch the processes in place, and some of them have come up with great ideas that have saved time, and they are offered jobs out of high school. We train them to work there.”

Seated next to Shmalo on the panel was Brenda Rolls, Ph.D., CEO of Stillwater’s Frontier Electronic Systems, a company that manufactures sophisticated electronic components for advanced military aircraft and for the U.S. space industry. Frontier employs more than 50 engineers among its workforce of about 120 people.

Potential interns are recruited and evaluated for the positions as if they were being hired for full-time Frontier Electronic positions, Rolls said.

“We try to give the interns real hands-on experience of what it would be like to work in an aerospace company like ours,” Rolls said. “We have had a number of female interns, and one of the great things that happens is there have been a number of interns who have stayed with us after they graduated. So, we have three women that have continued with us as full-time employees, and we have a number of men.”

OCAST manages a statewide cost-share Intern Partnership program that places college students in real world work environments like Frontier Electronic Systems across Oklahoma.

“I think Oklahoma is trying really, really hard to improve the hands-on learning opportunities for students at all levels,” Rolls said.

Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).

Take me out to the ‘Botball’ game: Robotics competition fuels STEM interests July 15, 2019

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The KISS Institute for Practical Robotics (KIPR) unleashed hundreds of robots in Norman at the recent Global Conference on Educational Robotics.

The event brought 700 school aged software engineers to Oklahoma from around the world.

Students from elementary age to high school competed in an international robotics competition called “Botball,” in which autonomous robots they designed, built and programmed attempted to tackle the task of cleaning up a virtual “city” that had been ravaged by flooding.

I was there at the invitation of my friends at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) for the opportunity to see some student-built robots in action.

A student team makes last-second adjustments to their robot before the Botball tournament begins.

While students saw Botball as a fun and challenging competition, the KIPR Institute describes it as a “standards-based” STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education program.

“What is awesome about Botball, I have students that are writing code and doing all of this in the third grade,” said Steve Goodgame, executive director of the KIPR Institute. “I had a college student who came in earlier and said he was working with the elementary students and ‘my gosh, that’s what I was doing as a freshman in college and these third graders are doing it.’”

The KIPR Institute hosts STEM events throughout the year and regional Botball competitions from which top teams qualify for the International competition.

The Institute has a mission to improve the public’s understanding of STEM and “develop the skills, character and aspirations of students” while contributing to the enrichment of schools and the community.

Teams from Canada, Mexico, Qatar, Kuwait, China, Poland, Austria, Africa, Taiwan and across the United States came to Norman for this year’s event, which also included an aerial drone competition and international keynote speakers.

Of course, there’s a bottom line to all the Botball fun. And that’s the acquisition of STEM skills that help create a workforce prepared for the career demands of the future.

“We are teaching a bunch of skills they can put in their tool box that they can use when they start innovating new companies, new ideas and new technologies,” Goodgame said. “It’s imperative that we as a state prepare our younger students as they age up and get these skills so we have a talented workforce that understands computer science.”

For Gillian Melendez, a 16-year-old junior-to-be from Xavier College Prep in Coachella Valley, Calif., the International Botball experience provided the opportunity to meet like-minded students from around the world and pursue her interest in software coding.

“I started when I was in 6th grade and I fell in love with it,” Melendez said. “Most girls aren’t into robotics because it’s nerdy, but I fell in love.  I love to code.”

Melendez was one of two girls on the six-person “G-Force” team from Coachilla Valley.

Norman native Braden McDorman is Exhibit A that Botball is an effective strategy for building STEM skills.

Braden McDorman is an entrepreneur who learned coding from his Botball experience

McDorman began competing in Botball in middle school, and today is co-founder and chief technology officer of a robotics software startup called Semio.

“I started Botball in sixth grade at Whittier Middle School and did it all through high school,” McDorman said. “Then I got an internship at KIPR working on software in high school and continued while I was working on my undergraduate degree at OU.”

McDorman’s path took him to the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics in high school and then on to a computer science degree at the University of Oklahoma. He also serves as a KIPR instructor for regional Botball competitions in Southern California, and co-founded Los Angeles-based Semio with another Botball alumnus.

“I’m working on a startup all because of Botball, actually,” McDorman said. “It’s a game that teaches everything you need to know to do real science, real programming. It’s the perfect way to prepare for a career in STEM.”

(Full disclosure: I write about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).