Science 'SEEPs' into schools

  • Published
  • By Jeanne Grimes
  • Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center Public Affairs
Scientists and engineers here are on a mission to ensure there are enough scientists and engineers in the pipeline to fill hundreds of anticipated vacancies at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center in the next seven to 10 years.

To accomplish this, employees got together to form the Science and Engineering Encouragement Program designed to lure young minds toward math and science.

"If you get them on the line, you can reel them in later," said Morgan Scott, acting deputy chief of the science and engineering division.

Scott believes the biggest challenge is just getting someone hooked.

"If they get out of ninth grade and you haven't hooked them on math and science, you've lost them," he said. "If you miss the basics in math, you're behind and it's hard to catch up; however, most kids like science and math if they're taught early that math and science are interesting."

Mark Shaw, who is acting chief of the science and engineering home office, agrees.

"The ideal time to talk to them is at the junior high school level," he said.

Many of the 1,100 engineers at here participate in SEEP.

SEEP is "something my staff developed" as a tool to foster junior high school and high school aged students' interest in science and engineering, Scott said. The idea initially came out of Tinker's Education and Training Partnership as a mentoring and encouragement tool.

Cynthia Gunter, of the science and engineering home office, is responsible for advocating the SEEP message to area schools. Gunter matches up Tinker science and engineering experts with schools which request programs, ensuring the best fit on both sides.

These SEEP proponents are taking their recruiting drive on the road with "gee whiz" science, hands-on displays and talking to junior high and high school students, as well as the teachers and counselors who have daily contact with those students.

"Our nation needs these young people to join the science and engineering arena," Shaw said, adding the results will benefit both the local communities and Tinker.

"It is evident that the median age of the industrial area's work force is in a downward trend as we see the aging work force retire and separate," he said. "Over the next 10 years, we'll be seeing the same trend in the science and engineering community. It's already starting to happen."

When Shaw visits a classroom, the students are very specific in their questions. They want to know what kind of coursework and tuition costs to expect in college if they pursue a science or engineering major and whether the classes are hard. They also want to know what kind of money they can expect to earn.

But they are not wholly driven by income potential. Increasingly, Shaw said he sees students who are looking for ways to give back to society.

"Science and engineering is a noble profession," he said. "It's not just numbers crunching. It's a logical process applicable to many careers.

Shaw and Edward Durell, another Tinker engineer, recently built a rapport with physical science students during a half-day visit to a junior high school. They stressed the need to master written and oral communications, as well as math and science.

"They let the students know how broad [engineering] is," said Mary Baker, a school counselor. "It was very informative to let the students know it's not just math and science; you have to study everything. It really helped our kids have a different perspective on what engineering encompasses."

While up to 38 percent of the students in some districts surrounding the base come from families who have "some kind of tie to Tinker," Shaw is realistic enough to admit that government service can be a challenging -- though not impossible -- sell.

"We're competing with the IBMs of the world," said Shaw, "[but] there's only one group in town that works on B-1 [Lancer] bombers. We have many unique engineering opportunities that are specific to government employment. We'll let you do things no one else will. Kids want that."