The other day someone asked me, “What's the most critical element to an innovation economy?”
Given that I'm an executive whose career has been primarily in finance, my answer may have been a little unexpected.
It's the people, of course.
As important as investment capital is, it's the inventors and risk-takers — the curious humans with breakthrough ideas and problem-solving skills — that are the lifeblood successful startups and job creation.
There is enormous demand for this type of talent.
Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions are expected to add 2.8 million new jobs by 2018. That calls for the U.S. to step up the current rate of STEM graduates by more than 30 percent.
However, once in college, about 60 percent of students planning engineering and science majors either switch to non-STEM majors or fail to earn any degree. After graduation, 43 percent of STEM graduates choose not to work in the field.
Compare those stats with the track record of the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics (OSSM). Of the first 1,000 OSSM graduates, 85 percent have stayed in a technical field for their chosen profession. More than half of OSSM degreed graduates who are in the workforce are working in Oklahoma.
OSSM accepts students from all over Oklahoma and is continually recognized as one of the top public STEM high schools in the U.S. There is no tuition; OSSM accepts applications from any Oklahoma student entering their junior year of high school.
OSSM graduates have already succeeded at college level courses. They've learned how to problem-solve, create and invent. They earn National Merit Scholarships, attend the finest colleges and universities and go on to become engineers, physicians and found companies.
OSSM reaches out into the most rural areas of our state with 13 regional centers that teach science and math courses to students enrolled in rural schools. More than 14,500 Oklahoma teachers have participated in workshops. More than 300 middle school students will attend OSSM free summer science, math and engineering day camps this summer.
In 2009, OSSM funding was slashed with the budget shortfalls and has never been restored. That's hard to justify given these outcomes.
Here's a school with a proven track record of producing professionals in technical fields, the majority of whom choose to work in Oklahoma.
As a state, it is in our strategic best interest to develop more STEM talent not less.
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 appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.
DID YOU KNOW?
Only 19 of every 100 degrees earned by students are STEM degrees.