Pontotoc Technology Center: Environmental Biotechnology STEM Program

K-12 Student Outreach

High school students are assuming the roles of scientists in the Environmental Biotechnology STEM Program 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. The current NSF Track-1 (2020-2025) continues to support students’ success and growth by further expanding the program via a new microbiome curriculum, models and modeling kits, and more.

The Environmental Biotechnology STEM Program is the first science and math-based course offered by Pontotoc Technology Center. Designed as a two-year, half-day course for eleventh and twelfth-grade students, the STEM program has been highly successful, with the majority of juniors reenrolling for their senior year.  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 NSF EPSCoR researchers encourage students to explore opportunities available after graduation.  

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. 


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.