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OSU’s New Product Development Center supports Oklahoma’s innovators with prototyping services March 23, 2020

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Editor’s Note: Along with colleague Debbie Cox from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, I recently toured the fabrication lab at the Tulsa campus of Oklahoma State University’s New Product Development Center.  Here is my report:

By Jim Stafford

TULSA – Evan Pratt, a design engineer at the Oklahoma State University – Tulsa campus location of OSU’s New Product Development Center (NPDC), held a small plastic device in front of me for inspection and challenged me to guess its purpose.

I didn’t have a clue. New computer mouse? Fancy salt shaker? Home security device?

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

Pratt was actually showcasing a “bottle grabber” assembly used by a Tulsa area manufacturer to keep the bottle filling and shipping process flowing smoothly.

“What this does is it fits on a conveyer system that is in their bottling system that helps them move and transport bottles from one conveyer system to another,” Pratt said.

The bottle grabber assembly was designed and created at the NPDC lab on a 3D printer to replace an original design and mesh perfectly with the client’s manufacturing process.

“This piece recently became unsupported by the original manufacturer,” Pratt said. “So, under a pay-for-service contract, we reverse engineered this bottle grabber assembly and created a 3D-printed prototype for them to test.”

The New Product Development Center was founded by OSU in 2002 to provide Oklahoma inventors and entrepreneurs with market research, prototype development and grant writing assistance to advance their concepts, said Jessica Stewart, assistant director.

Along with the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), i2E Inc., the Tom Love Innovation Hub at the University of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, the NPDC is a key element in the Oklahoma Innovation Model that supports Oklahoma’s innovation economy. Robert Taylor is NPDC executive director.

As Debbie Cox from OCAST looks on, Evan Pratt displays a tray of ‘bottle grabbers’ designed and produced by OSU’s New Product Development Center

The bottle grabber assembly was created as part of a $399,000 grant awarded in 2017 to NPDC by the federal Economic Development Administration through its “i6 Challenge” program. Launched in 2014 the ongoing i6 Challenge has awarded $42 million with $54 million in matching funds that are supporting 88 projects across 36 states, according to the EDA website.

“The EDA i6 grant is basically set up to assist small businesses, inventors, startups and some manufacturers with a working first prototype to be able to get them further along in their product development,” Stewart said.

On this mid-January day, Pratt and Stewart gave me and OCAST colleague Debbie Cox a tour of their fabrication shop that features 3D printing capabilities along with tools to engineer and create just about any prototype to the specifications sought by manufacturers or inventors.

The EDA grant led to a unique collaboration between the OSU organization and OU’s Tom Love Innovation Hub, which expanded the array of services offered Oklahoma innovators through the grant.

“The Tom Love Innovation Hub has been excellent in providing services to our inventor community to create prototypes that we don’t have the capacity to do here,” Stewart said.

Added Tom Wavering, executive director of OU’s Innovation Hub: “When jobs come in, and they come to us and need some help, we figure out if we can help them or OSU can help them and send them to the right spot. Jessica and Robert do the same.”

At its Tulsa location, the NPDC provides both a mechanical and electrical engineer who provide design expertise and prototyping services like that of the bottle grabber assembly.

“We are probably Tulsa’s best kept secret,” Stewart said of the NPDC. “We invite inventors, small businesses and manufacturers to call us to see if we can provide resources and move them forward.”

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

Educational consortium designs intern program to help turn Tulsa into bioscience ‘hub’ March 6, 2020

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Editor’s note:  My friends at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology invited me to this week’s Bioscience Networking Luncheon in Tulsa, where I heard an interesting presentation on internship opportunities in the Tulsa area.  This is what I wrote about the event.

Kathleen Curtis, Ph.D., addresses audience at OCAST-sponsored Bioscience Networking Luncheon at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa.

By Jim Stafford

TULSA – The eight member organizations of the Tulsa Area Bioscience Education and Research Consortium (TABERC) have aspirations to make Tulsa a “hub” of bioscience education and research, Kathleen Curtis, Ph.D., told a recent bioscience networking luncheon here.

Curtis was among speakers at the 2nd Annual Bioscience Networking Luncheon on the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences (OSU-CHS) campus. The event was presented by the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) for about 60 Tulsa area bioscience professionals.

Curtis is a professor of physiology and interim chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology at OSU-CHS and chair of the Tulsa area research consortium.

TABERC has developed a vibrant internship program to help bioscience research flourish in Tulsa, Curtis said. Student interns gain hands-on skills by working on real world research projects in participating laboratories

“I was just sitting here counting on my fingers about the number of interns we have placed over the last 13 years,” Curtis said during her presentation. “I’m thinking it’s somewhere between 60 and 70 research interns in just 13 years that we’ve provided hands-on bench experience with bioscience research.”

Educational institutions that compose TABERC are Northeastern State University, OSU-Center for Health Sciences, Oral Roberts University, Rogers State University, Tulsa Community College, Tulsa Technology Center, the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, and the University of Tulsa.

“All of these internships are completely funded by dues paid by our member organizations,” Curtis said.

Internships are also a key element of OCAST’s mission to grow and diversify Oklahoma’s economy through technology development. Its Intern Partnership Program is a cost-share initiative that places Oklahoma college students in laboratories and business across the state.

For instance, the Oklahoma Life Science Fund, an early stage venture capital fund that focuses on biotech opportunities, has been awarded three past grants to employ interns through the OCAST program.

Fund manager William Paiva, Ph.D., was in the audience as Curtis pitched the TABERC program. Internships provide students with experiences that they can’t gain on campus, he said.

“Our interns spent 50 percent of their time looking at new deals, new investment opportunities doing the due diligence, doing the valuations, structuring the deals, helping raise the co-investors into the deals,” Paiva said. “The other half of their time I would actually loan them out to the CEOs of our portfolio companies to work on specific projects for the companies.”

“It wasn’t stuff you learn in the classroom,” Paiva said. “It was real world experience.”

Paiva said he recently submitted an application for a fourth OCAST Intern Partnership grant.

Meanwhile, TABERC’s Curtis wrapped up her presentation with an appeal to the networking luncheon audience.

“If you know of opportunities to place students or money to fund students, please talk to us,” she said. “We’ll put it to good use to train students and advance the research that will help make Tulsa a hub for bioscience.”

Other speakers at the bioscience luncheon included Dr. Kayse Shrum, president of OSU Center for Health Sciences and Oklahoma Secretary of Science and Innovation; Carol Curtis, Ph.D., with i2E, Inc.; Bill Murphy with the Tulsa Regional Chamber; and Paul Gignac, Ph.D., associate professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology at OSU-CHS.

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

Tulsa’s AAON makes it rain – and snow – in high tech Norman Asbjornson Innovation Center March 5, 2020

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Editor’s note: This report was written after I toured the AAON manufacturing campus in Tulsa at the invitation of my friends at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST).

By Jim Stafford

TULSA – Mark Fly can make it rain at the massive Norman Asbjornson Innovation Center on the manufacturing campus of Tulsa’s AAON Inc. And snow.

Fly is executive director of AAON’s new R&D laboratory, a 134,000 square foot building that opened in 2019, and was a key designer of the facility. The Norman Asbjornson Innovation Center (NAIC) consists of 10 testing chambers, some of which can simulate heat, cold, rain, snow, wind and humid or arid conditions to test the durability of AAON’s industrial heating and air conditioning equipment in the most brutal of conditions.

“In our extreme environmental chamber, it can snow up to two inches an hour or rain eight inches an hour and do so with a simulated wind of 50 miles per hour,” Fly told me and colleagues from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) as he recently led us on a tour of the NAIC.

Mark Fly with AAON takes us through a tour of the company’s manufacturing and warehouse floor

“Our environmental chambers can be controlled to minus 20 degrees or up to 130 degrees, and humidity from 10 percent well into the 90 percent range,” Fly said. “We can simulate any outdoor environment in the world.”

AAON is a publicly traded (NASDAQ: AAON) manufacturer of commercial and industrial air conditioning and heating units. It employs approximately 1,900 people who work in 1.5 million square feet of manufacturing space at its Tulsa headquarters.

Named after company co-founder Norman Asbjornson, the NAIC provides AAON with testing capabilities that are unequaled in the industry, said Gary Fields, AAON’s president.

AAON employs 47 engineers among its 125-person R&D division affectionately known as “Area 51.”

“The innovation that we are noted for here at AAON is very much accentuated in this laboratory,” Fields said. “R&D has been the core value of AAON since the beginning.”

AAON was founded in 1988 when Asbjornson and partners purchased the heating and air conditioning division of the John Zink Company. Asbjornson is AAON’s CEO and chairman of the board.

Today, AAON employs 2,400 people across the company that also includes locations in Longview, Texas, and the Kansas City, Mo., area. Annual revenue is approximately $500 million from a diverse customer base.

“One of our premier customers that would be noteworthy would be the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, N.Y.,” Fields said. “We shipped 26 units that were as much as 77 feet long; each unit took two truckloads to get to the facility.”

Nike Inc., on the west coast, is another premier AAON customer, Fields said.

OCAST has supported AAON’s R&D over the years with Oklahoma Applied Research Support (OARS) projects involving computer modeling on energy measurement and prediction, as well as controls, Fly said. The company also has been a participant in the OCAST Intern Partnerships program that places promising Oklahoma college students in real world work environments.

“Oklahoma has always been a very manufacturing-friendly state,” Fly said. “It is very supportive from both a tax and incentive standpoint, which includes programs like OCAST.”

Fly eventually led us into AAON’s sound test chamber that featured 12-inch thick concrete walls adorned with rectangular metal plates designed to echo sound.

“Customers want to know how much noise the equipment makes, because it may be going into a concert hall or a school,” Fly said as his voice reverberated back to us. “The sound is virtually the same everywhere in this room because of the echo.”

AAON performs acoustical, air flow and thermal testing simultaneously in the sound test chamber, Fields said.

“This capability exists nowhere else in the world,” he said.

Now that’s making it rain.

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

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).

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).

Launching pad: Considering the potential of UCO’s Don Betz STEM Center November 16, 2018

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Michael Carolina, left, OCAST executive director, poses with Dr. Thomas and Carolyn Kupiec in the Don Betz STEM Research and Learning Center on the UCO campus.

I’ve always said that I would love to be involved in a STEM career, except for a few barriers – those being science, technology, engineering and math.

So, I’m content to write about those subjects on behalf of my friends at Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) and i2E, Inc.

But that doesn’t mean that I can’t admire an awesome new facility like the Don Betz STEM Research and Learning Center on the University of Central Oklahoma campus.

UCO officially opened the new 57,000-square-foot facility with a ribbon cutting ceremony this past Wednesday. I was among about 200 people fortunate to attend.

After the speeches and the ribbon cutting, we were invited inside to check it out.

The Don Betz Center, named after the current UCO President, features state-of-the-art research and teaching labs for multiple academic disciplines and a striking lecture hall that can accommodate 80 students.

As I wandered the halls taking it all in, I encountered Dr. Thomas Kupiec, CEO of Oklahoma City’s ARL Biopharma and DNA Solutions. He and his wife, Carolyn, were visiting with Michael Carolina, OCAST executive director. I consider them all friends of mine and stopped to chat for a moment.

I knew that Dr. Kupiec was a UCO graduate, earning his undergraduate degrees there, but did not realize how involved he remains with the university. He is a member of the UCO Foundation Board of Trustees, and his Kupiec Family Foundation provided funding for the Betz Center’s lecture hall.

Dr. Kupiec pointed me to the lecture hall just across the corridor from where we were talking, so I walked over to check it out. A sign on the outside wall identified it as the Kupiec Family Foundation Lecture Hall, so I stepped inside.

The lecture hall is breathtaking, with theater style seating, sleek white tables and massive video screens scattered throughout.

The lecture hall also doubles as a storm shelter and is identified as such at the entrance.

The rest of the two-story Betz Center was equally impressive. I saw labs filled with microscopes and chemistry hoods. I toured a teaching facility for nurses that looked like an actual hospital room. I saw large racks of computer servers.

Hanging on the walls in the interior corridor were the original drawings of the building as envisioned by the architects at Elliot & Associates.

The Don Betz Center appears to be a perfect place to launch the next generation of chemists, health care professionals and research scientists for whom science, technology, engineering and math are no barriers.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing about it.

Inside the Kupiec Family Foundation Lecture Hall

 

 

 

Watch: OCAST interview with NextThought co-founder Ken Parker October 23, 2018

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In the video below, NextThought co-founder Ken Parker describes how his company uses technology to support what he calls “connected” online education.   Read the related feature story in The Oklahoman.

 

Oka’ Sustainability conference showcases mobile technology to remediate water produced in drilling operations October 23, 2018

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Editor’s Note: I was invited by my friends at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology to attend the recent Oka’ Sustainability conference at East Central University in Ada, where the focus was on ways to preserve and sustain Oklahoma’s water resources for future generations.  I wrote this report on the experience.

ADA – Billions of barrels of salty, grimy water are produced by the nation’s oil and gas drilling operations annually, with few alternatives for its disposal.

The water is so polluted that it can’t be used again for drilling operations and has no place to go except deep into the earth. That water must be hauled long distances to disposal wells and more fresh water imported for operations.

“What’s happening with advances in drilling technology, they are drilling deeper wells and longer laterals,” said Joe Haligowski, sales director for Filtra-Systems LLC, a company owned by Chickasaw Nation Industries. “That’s producing more oil, but it’s also producing more water.”

The AQWATEC research center at the Colorado School of Mines reports that 21 billion barrels of water are produced annually by U.S. drilling operations.

Gov. Bill Anoatubby with the Chickasaw Nation (center) poses with reps from tribal owned Filtra Systems, showcasing technology to remediate water produced from oil & gas wells.

Enter mobile technology developed by Filtra-Systems to meet that challenge. The Chickasaw-owned company showcased its new SCOUT mobile water recycling system at the recent Oka’ Institute Sustainability Conference at East Central University.

The SCOUT technology cleans polluted water as close to the drilling operation as possible so it can be reused in future operations instead of flushed into disposal wells.

“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 with seed money from the Sciences and Natural Resources Foundation. Former state Sen. Susan Paddack is the institute’s executive director.

The Oka’ Institute sponsors the annual Sustainability Conference to focus on ways to protect Oklahoma’s water resources for future generations.

That’s where Filtra-Systems and its SCOUT technology fit the agenda.

“The advantage of reusing water as much as possible provides a cost benefit not only to the oil company but also a benefit to sustainability,” Haligowski said. “We believe that’s important, but it’s also good business.”

The October 2-3 conference attracted over 200 people, from five states as well as international participants, from diverse industries for which water sustainability is critical. The theme of this year’s conference was Quality Water Now and in the Future.

“The whole purpose of this conference is to bring people together who are in agriculture, people who are in oil and gas, utilities, people who are in academic positions in the state, to have this conversation about how we are going to ensure we have water resources forever more,” Paddack said.

Water sustainability is more than just preserving water to sustain future generations, Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said in a keynote address at the conference.

“Investment in water sustainability is an investment in both our environment and our economy,” Anoatubby said. “Investing in water sustainability builds businesses, safeguards communities, protects the environment and strengthens durable economic health.”

“The whole purpose of this conference is to bring people together who are in agriculture, people who are in oil and gas, utilities, people who are in academic positions in the state, to have this conversation about how we are going to ensure we have water resources forever more.” — Susan Paddack

How is sustainability good for business?

For starters, it could be jobs. The SCOUT mobile water recycling system is largely manufactured in Marietta, where Filtra-Systems employs about 70 people in the southern Oklahoma community.

Then there is Jimmy Emmons, a farmer from Leedey in far western Oklahoma. Emmons adopted no-till farming practices in 1995, then adopted crop rotations, cover crops and planned grazing management to decrease soil erosion and increase water infiltration of the soil.

“I’m here at the Oka’ Institute conference to share a little bit about soil health and why we should be worried about how we farm,” Emmons said. “My message is for us to think about what we are doing because as a nation we’ve eroded half our top soil, and within that is organic matter that has water holding capacity of our soil. Soil health is the key to helping have more water in the water cycle.”

Instead of planting only wheat and cotton on his 2,000 acres, Emmons now rotates through eight different crops and saves thousands of dollars a year on fuel costs by not plowing his fields. The topsoil doesn’t blow away and the ground holds more water.

“We keep something living and growing, which really mimics Mother Nature and the native prairie system,” he said.

In 2017, Emmons was the first Oklahoman to receive the Leopold Conservation Award, which recognizes achievement in voluntary stewardship and management of natural resources.

A third generation farmer on his Emmons Farms property, Emmons serves as president of the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts and is vice president of the not-for-profit educational organization known as No-Till on the Plains.

“The Oka’ Institute conference here is so important to Oklahoma because they are trying to bring forth how important water is, how we take care of it and how we manage it,” Emmons said. “We very seldom look at that.”