Scientists For The Next 100 Years


Wednesday, February 7th 2007, 9:49 am
By: News On 6


Where will the country’s next generation of scientists come from? Who will keep the United States ahead of the rest of the world in technology, the biosciences and medical research?

The state of Oklahoma is nurturing the best young minds it can find to boost the state’s future economy. And as a taxpayer, you have a stake in how they do. News On 6 anchor Scott Thompson reports on the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, looking ahead to the next 100 years.

At 18, Maggie Qi is already an accomplished pianist. She composed several musical pieces and while she wants to continue playing throughout her life, her other goal is to become a neurosurgeon.

Since coming to the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics from Union High School, she's realized she can accomplish both. “We all work toward a common goal which is a successful future with whatever we want to do with our lives.” As an upcoming graduate of OSSM, it would be wise to bet on Maggie's future success.

OSSM is Oklahoma's public, residential, high school for juniors and seniors who show exceptional ability in science and mathematics. It's an incubator, in other words, for homegrown scientists and mathematicians. OSSM administrator Dr. Edna Manning says, “You know historically we've always imported scientists but what we're finding is that Oklahoma's young people have an interest in it and they're capable of competing with anybody in the world given the chance to prepare.”

Since the first graduating class in 1992, the students have come from every county in Oklahoma. It's very tough to get in, just ask Jacob Cantu from Owasso. “I think it's supposed to make you stop and think, 'if I have to do this just to get in, what's it gonna be like once I get in'?” 16-year old Jacob Cantu thought the challenges would be greater here than back home at Owasso High School. Boy, was he right. He's faced failure at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics for the first time in his school career and he loves it. “I wanted to push myself. I wanted to do something more than just what I was doing because I was comfortable with what I was doing.”

Comfort, they'll tell you at OSSM, leads to complacency. And neither Oklahoma, nor the United States, can settle for complacency any more. That's why the State of Oklahoma covers the tuition costs of every student who comes here. “They will be the doctors and the scientists, the teachers and I tell them I look forward to calling one of them 'Governor' one day,” says Dr. Edna Manning.

Sandwiched between downtown Oklahoma City and the State Capitol building, the 32-acre campus is self-contained. 144 students live two-to-a-room in a dormitory. There's a beautiful new library and a new Science Center. Most classes are held in an old public school building that's been tastefully renovated.

It's like starting college two years early. The courses are advanced college-level, and 80 percent of the faculty, like Dr. Jan Post, hold doctorate degrees. After having spent a year at a public high school, Dr. Post appreciates having a class full of motivated students and he loves the challenge. “Keep them motivated, yes, and also provide them with projects they find interesting, some research projects that we do.” That's often done across the street at the Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. That's where Maggie Qi spends some time. “And we're working on anti-cancer, working on synthesizing and purifying an anti-cancer, various anti-cancer compounds to see if they show anti-cancer activities.”

Don't get the idea they're super-human. They're kids. Jacob Cantu still calls his mom every day. After all, it's a big adjustment moving away from family and friends at this age. Still, they make the sacrifice because the rewards are just too great. For themselves and for the nation they'll no doubt make a better place. “I'm convinced there's a cure to lots of things in these young people's minds and I'm convinced there's some Nobel laureates in this crowd, it's just a matter of time,” says Dr. Edna Manning.

To find out more about the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics, visit their website at www.ossm.edu.