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OSU receives $6M grant from Defense Department to offer STEM programs to underrepresented students

Members of the Unmanned Systems Research Institute at Oklahoma State University help students test egg protection apparatuses with the use of drones at a summer camp at OSU DISCOVERY.
OSU
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Members of the Unmanned Systems Research Institute at Oklahoma State University help students test egg protection apparatuses with the use of drones at a summer camp at OSU DISCOVERY.

OSU is among seven universities to receive a U.S. Department of Defense grant to boost science, technology, engineering and math programs for disadvantaged or underrepresented students.

Seven institutions are getting a total of $43 million from the defense department. OSU is receiving $6 million over the next four years, the same amount as Harvard and the largest grants among the selected universities.

The grant will help the university’s OSU DISCOVERY program in Oklahoma City ramp up STEM summer programs for kindergarten through eighth graders.

"We want to engage these young minds to question how and why everything works. Understanding the underlying engineering, scientific principles that support the technological world that young people experience every day is key to exciting the next generation of STEM," said Dr. Jovette Dew, the director of K–12 STEM programs for OSU’s College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology.

The grant will also help OSU offer more teacher training opportunities. Initiatives will focus on Oklahoma City, Milwood and Mid-Del public schools, districts around Tinker Air Force Base with roughly 55,000 students combined but that send only a handful to the state universities’ engineering colleges in a given year.

OKCPS Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel said the defense grant will bring opportunities to students who wouldn’t otherwise get them.

"You know, we work most of our adult lives trying to figure out how we can develop kids who are STEM-ready when they leave us. And so, we're looking for partners all of the time," McDaniel said.

There’s a national security interest behind the grant award. Luke Holland is chief of staff for U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe. He says there’s concern at the defense department that China has surpassed the U.S. in military technology.

"In areas like hypersonics and artificial intelligence, they're five, 10, maybe 15 years ahead of what our capabilities are," Holland said.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.