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Women in STEM conference highlights career possibilities for school aged participants March 9, 2020

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Northeastern State University education student Destiny May shows a pair of middle school girls how to program a table to remotely operate a robot at the Oklahoma Women in STEM conference.

Editor’s note: I was invited to attend the recent Oklahoma Women in STEM conference on the Broken Arrow campus of Northeastern State University by my friends at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST). This is my report from the engaging science, technology, engineering and math activities for young women I saw during the conference. Check out the terrific OCAST video shot at the conference. 

By Jim Stafford

BROKEN ARROW – A group of middle school and high school aged young women gathered at the base of a stairwell in a building on the Broken Arrow campus of Northeastern State University and collectively looked up.

Standing on a step about 10 feet above them, another young woman held out a trash bag connected by string to a Styrofoam cup that held a single egg.

It was a homemade parachute, constructed during an aerodynamics and engineering workshop as part of the recent Oklahoma Women in STEM conference at NSU.

The contraption dangled over the crowd for a moment as a voice counted down “3, 2, 1.” Then it dropped. The trash bag filled with air and turned into a parachute, floating to the ground.

The egg survived unbroken.

Xan Black, executive director of conference co-sponsor Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance, led the aerodynamics workshop and counted down each parachute drop. It was an exercise designed to showcase the benefits of teamwork, persistence and perhaps even spark some future career interest in STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — she said.

“My real hope is that they will all consider a career in aviation or aerospace,” Black said. “Oklahoma has such a rich tradition in those industries, and I want those girls to know you absolutely have a place in the aerospace industry.”

Co-sponsored by the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance and NSU, the conference drew about 150 middle school and high school girls from areas surrounding Tulsa, as well as teachers and industry mentors. It concluded with a luncheon where organizers honored about 30 women who work in STEM professions across Oklahoma.

Dr. Kayse Shrum, a physician and president of the Oklahoma State College of Osteopathic Medicine, as well as Oklahoma’s Secretary of Science and Innovation, served as keynote speaker.

She urged the young women in her audience to set goals and pursue their dreams.

“My message today was really about walking in your own shoes,” she said. “It’s really being your authentic self. If you set a goal for yourself, you can achieve it, even if everyone around you thinks that’s a ridiculous goal or that’s not achievable.”

As Shrum spoke, an accompanying slide showed how under-represented women are in STEM fields. According to the National Science Foundation, women comprise only 28 percent of the science and engineering workforce.

Shrum used her own example of pursuing a STEM career. She grew up in the community of Coweta, OK, and went to college as a softball player. A professor noticed her math and science abilities and encouraged her to pursue a medical career.

“I had no idea I was capable of becoming a physician until my professor empowered me by saying ‘I think you can,’” she said.

The Women in STEM conference at NSU’s Broken Arrow campus featured a demonstration of a working robotic arm.

Kinnee Tilly, vice president of Business Development for the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, also addressed the luncheon audience, emphasizing the importance of expanding the number of women involved in STEM careers in Oklahoma.

“The workforce pipeline is very important to the success of our state, and we need all of you to look at what your career opportunities are,” she said.

The conference also showcased robotics, computer programming, math skills and matched young women with career mentors.

“I hope the girls take away from this conference that within the realm of STEM, there are so many interesting fields and so many interesting problems and challenges, that they will think about that and say ‘I just might take that extra math class or join that robotics club,’” Black said. “And I hope these girls look around and see 150 other young girls here, all of whom are interested in STEM. That’s very important.”

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).