Oklahoma Teachers Learn On The Job Through Summer STEM Externships

Mar 20, 2018

Oklahoma’s education department is looking for companies to host teachers this summer.

Last year, a pilot program placed teachers with companies that hire people in science, math, engineering and technology, or STEM, related fields. The state is trying to expand the program this year.

The Journal Record’s Sarah Terry-Cobo reports that many Oklahoma teachers take extra jobs over the summer. The externship program gives them an opportunity to earn additional money and gain skills and knowledge that can be applied in the classroom.

TerraCon Consultants Office Manager Phil Wood said hosting educators provided a concrete opportunity to contribute to the community’s science, technology, mathematics and engineering, or STEM, needs.

“We’re a local office of a national company and we have forever been interested in math and science and getting kids interested in STEM,” Wood said. “But it is hard to know what to do and how to do it.”

The program is a tangible way to give hands-on context for what students could do with the science and math skills teachers insist they’ll eventually use in the working world, he said.  Teachers earned $15 per hour and worked four hours a day for two weeks.

The Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance organized a similar externship program last summer. Three companies took part, and they paid teachers $5,000 for six weeks worth of work. Program director Xan Black told the Journal Record that teachers felt empowered to work with engineers

“If a teacher feels confident and can explain what a company does in an engaging way, that’s a force multiplier,” Black said. “They can be great ambassadors and this is an opportunity for students to learn what is here locally.”

Sarah Terry-Cobo told KGOU that the externships give teachers an opportunity to do tactile, professional development that is more fun than a lot of professional development in the education world, which usually consists of sitting, listening and taking notes.

“They get to see how the math and science they teach in the classroom is applied in the real world, which is really important especially for a teacher who may have never worked outside of academia,” Terry-Cobo said.

One of the challenges of the extern program was to find jobs that benefit both the teachers and the company. One business tried to find jobs that teachers have a working knowledge of.

“There was one extern, for example, who was at the Williams Cos., that pipeline company in Tulsa, and she planned activities for a high school day in which teenagers come to the company and shadow engineers,” Terry-Cobo said.


Jacob McCleland: You're listening to the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I'm Jacob McCleland and I'm talking today with Sarah Terry-Cobo. She's a senior reporter with the Journal Record newspaper. Sarah, thanks so much for joining us.

Sarah Terry-Cobo: Hi Jacob. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

McCleland: Since it looks like a teacher walkout could occur within the next week and a half or so, I want to talk with you about a story you wrote about externships for Oklahoma teachers. This is a program through the state education department to find meaningful summer jobs for teachers at companies that hire a lot of workers in the STEM fields. What kinds of work to do the teachers do?

Terry-Cobo: Well,so it varies a bit depending on the company. Last year was a pilot program and TerraCon Consultants, they're are commercial design and engineering firm, they had a handful of teachers. They were in the laboratory, learning about what goes into cement mix, which takes a surprising amount of math to measure the ingredients, and soil science so the mix is just right. But it can be any company that uses science, technology, engineering or math as part of its daily work.

McCleland: So besides the pay which could be as much as five thousand dollars for a for a six week program, I mean, what do the teachers gain from from this arrangement?

Terry-Cobo: Right. And the six week five thousand dollar program that's that's a Tulsa one specifically. We could talk about that in a bit. But really what the teachers gain from this is hands on experience to take back to the classroom. They get to see how the math and science they teach in the classroom is applied in the real world, which is really important especially for a teacher who may have never worked outside of academia. The other thing that they get, frankly, is fun. And it sometimes is tactile, professional-type of development. Robyn Miller over at the State Education Department says a lot of professional development is "sit and get" which is sitting listening and taking notes.

McCleland: Why do the organizers and participants in this program believe it will help bridge the skills gap and get more students engaged in STEM fields?

Terry-Cobo: Well, the Tulsa regional STEM Alliance the one I mentioned before, they put it like this: Teachers can become ambassadors for the company. So they can explain with confidence what the company does, but they also have a better idea of what the students need to do in secondary school to get prepared for the working world or for college.

McCleland: How do the companies that participate in the program last summer, I mean, how did they find the jobs for teachers that benefit both the business and the teachers as well?

Terry-Cobo: Well that was something that was really challenging for both the state program, the pilot program, and the Tulsa one. In Tulsa which is similar to the state's program, they found something that teachers have real working knowledge about. There was one extern for example who was at the Williams Companies, that pipeline company in Tulsa, and she planned activities for a high school day in which teenagers come to the company and shadow engineers.

McCleland: What were some of the misperceptions that teachers may have about engineering that these that these externships were able to dispel?

Terry-Cobo: Well one was that engineers do things by trial and error. The folks at TerraCon found this really surprising. But when they thought about it, it occurrs to them that how experiments are done in school laboratories, right. You've got a bunch of popsicle sticks. You have to figure out how to make a bridge. So you just try different things until it works. That is not how civil engineers build bridges in the real world.

Terry-Cobo: Now this program dealt specifically with STEM field careers. Are there other similar programs for non-STEM jobs?

McCleland: Not that I'm aware of. That's not what we talked about in this program. But one of the interesting things that the folks at TerraCon said was that for the entry level employees, those with just a high school education, they're mostly hiring for character traits. Can you show up to work on time? Are you reliable? Can you follow directions and can you think critically?

McCleland: Sarah Terry-Cobo is a reporter with The Journal Record newspaper. Sarah, thank you so much for your time.

Terry-Cobo: Great to be here. Thanks Jacob

Terry-Cobo: KGOU and the Journal Record collaborate each week on The Business Intelligence Report. You can find this conversation at You can also follow us on social media. We're on Facebook and Twitter, @journalrecord and @kgounews.

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