Pontotoc Technology Center: Environmental Biotechnology STEM Academy

K-12 Student Outreach

Twenty-one high school students are assuming the roles of scientists as participants in the Environmental Biotechnology STEM Academy at Pontotoc Technology Center in Ada, Oklahoma. The first-of-its-kind science, math and biotechnology course was established in 2014 through a grant from Oklahoma NSF EPSCoR. Designed as a two-year, half-day program for eleventh and twelfth-grade students, the STEM Academy has been highly successful, with 95% of juniors reenrolling for their senior year in 2015.  

Students from nine school districts in six rural southern Oklahoma counties have access to the multidisciplinary, career and college pathway course. Groups that are traditionally underrepresented in STEM fields are well-represented in the program:  43 percent of enrolled students are members of a Native American tribe and 67 percent of participants are female (based on 2015 data).  
 
The Environmental Biotechnology STEM Academy is the first science and math-based course offered by Pontotoc Technology Center. The classroom is a professional, scientific research-level laboratory that includes equipment such as DNA and protein electrophoresis test equipment, gel imaging systems, analytical balances, spectrophotometers, incubators, laminar flow hoods, centrifuges and more.  
 
Junior and senior high school students have real-world experiences in environmental science techniques and theory through classroom instruction, visiting scientist lectures, lab and field experimentation, and internship opportunities. Students study a variety of climate-related issues, including water quality and availability, which are especially significant to the people of southern Oklahoma due to recent concerns with Ada’s Arbuckle-Simpson aquifer. Monthly monitoring of a local water source helps students understand the complexities involved in climate variability and water research, as well as the relevance of research in their home environment.
 
A partnership with the Chickasaw Nation Tribe allows students to explore social impacts of water quality and availability from a Native American perspective, in addition to the broader regional and national scope that is covered through the course. Economic impacts are also studied. Field trips to area labs and visiting scientist’s lectures by EPSCoR researchers encourage students to explore opportunities available after graduation. 
 
The STEM Academy was established at the Pontotoc Technology Center in Ada, Oklahoma, in spring 2014 through Oklahoma NSF EPSCoR RII award number IIA-1301789. Students are selected to participate in the half-day, two-year program based on overall GPA, prior course work in algebra and biology, and a desire to study STEM in an in-depth setting. College credit may be earned through an agreement with East Central University. Program partners include the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education, Robert S. Kerr Environmental Research Center, the Chickasaw Nation, and East Central University.  

For program information, contact Pontotoc Technology Center at 580.310.2200. 

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Pictured above: Hope Rhoten, a student in the inaugural Environmental Biotechnology STEM Academy at Pontotoc Tech Center, completes her final lab work of the semester.