The nonprofit Flight Night made a $500,000 donation Wednesday to science, technology, engineering and math programs in Tulsa.
The Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance got $439,200, and Fab Lab Tulsa got $60,800 to go toward a variety of programs for kids.
A central part of that is STEM kits teachers can get for free. Former astronaut John Herrington, who got a Ph.D. in education after retiring from NASA, said the kits offer invaluable hands-on learning experiences.
“It’s not a burden on them, it’s not a burden on the school districts, and it gives kids an opportunity to work with their hands, to tie the practical to the theoretical, work with their friends and compete with other folks, too. So, it’s a good thing, a fabulous thing,” Herrington said.
The programs can help kids get an early interest in careers based on the concepts they teach. Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell said Gov. Stitt wants Oklahoma to be a top-10 state in STEM in order to buoy the economy.
“We have got to diversify as a state. That’s not going to happen without making sure that we’re all-in on promoting STEM education and STEM degrees,” Pinnell said.
Pinnell said he and Stitt are coming up with a four-year plan to improve STEM outcomes, and public-private partnerships will be a key part of it.
Flight Night President Bailey Siegfried said programs the organization helps fund make a workforce trained for jobs Oklahoma wants to attract much more likely.
“Helps the students, helps the teachers and helps the whole economy. So, it’s very important to us,” Siegfried said.
Flight Night has donated almost $2.5 million in support of Tulsa-area STEM programs over the past five years. Funding has also helped open a STEM Shop that’s given away thousands of dollars worth of materials, and a professional development program is set to launch this year.