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Point of View: STEM and renewables

Garen Ewbank
Garen Ewbank

What is the intersection of STEM and renewables and why is it important?

Consider the intersection of renewable energy and the capabilities of professionals well trained in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Consider the impact these resources could make on our communities, culture and economy if we had the skilled workforce creative and innovative thinking and the training needed to realize the possibilities of new energy sources.

Renewable energy sources are solar, biomass, geothermal, wind and hydroelectric. Sustainable economies are created when renewables sources replace electricity generated by other forms of nonrenewable energy such as nuclear and coal.

The major issues with implementing a renewable energy strategy are the higher initial cost barriers, regulatory issues, invested capital and fear of change. At the same time, the difficult issue with STEM growth is that is it requires adequate funding to provide the highly skilled training needed to teach it, use it and apply it.

Now to the intersection of these renewables and STEM learning.

Scott Meacham, former Oklahoma state treasurer and now with i2E Inc., expressed it well: “We can build and sustain Oklahoma's innovation economy — we have the data, the benchmarks and the basic structure to 'move the needle.’ We just need the ‘will’, and with the will, the intersection becomes a bit less blurry but needs some focus.” Sadly, our state is going the opposite direction.

January data, as reported in The Oklahoman, reveals a slip in the state science and technology ratings. I agree with Meacham that to improve Oklahoma’s ranking, we must commit to strategically investing in research, science and technology by building a technology corridor of the Plains. As an Oklahoma-trained energy engineer, I challenge my colleagues to take a giant stride with me in creating this technology corridor by coming together, perhaps in the new Endeavor laboratory on the Oklahoma State University campus, to lay out a roadmap for the project. Such a roadmap must include a strong emphasis on STEM programs in secondary and higher education adequately funded by our state. STEM graduates become societal assets that increase in value over time with the development of new technologies such as renewable energy, as opposed to decreases in value for other professions.

Nurturing this intersection of STEM and sustainable renewable energies is vital, and Oklahoma as a state must continue to strive to lead in new technologies with strong STEM support in our education system.

Ewbank is a managing member of GreyEdge Group, LLC, in Tulsa, and sole proprietor of Ewbank Geo Testing, LLC, in Fairview.