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OSU Brings Virtual Reality to CPN Child Development Center

Friday, August 5, 2022

A STEM education in high school looks much different now than even 20 years ago. With new technologies arriving almost by the minute, programs such as Oklahoma State University College of Education and Human Science’s Mixed Reality Laboratory provide their students with necessary resources to meet that future. But what about those in primary school?


OSU received the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers grant from the National Science Foundation. The grant reaches Native students at tribal schools in Oklahoma, including Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Child Development Center, to spark interest in STEM education and careers.


“The whole bottom line is Native communities typically get left out. Our kids are behind. Not cool in my book,” said grant program coordinator Cynthia Orona.


She and the Mixed Reality Lab worked together to bring curriculum for science, technology, engineering and math to three tribes — including CPN’s after-school program that serves students 6 to 13 years old. They provided software to teach the students how to digitally design almost any building or product imaginable as well as 3D printers and virtual reality goggles to bring them to life. 


CPN’s Department of Education Director Tesia Zientek connected OSU and the Tribe and saw some students present their projects in April 2022 after completing a year with the program. Student Rylee Penson started off hesitant but looked forward to the program every week.


“The first time I went, I was like, ‘What am I doing? I don’t know anything I’m doing,’” she said. Penson used her imagination to “make new art, to make crazy stuff” and learned how to build and design structures by the end.


“To see it now at this point and understand what the kids were able to learn and even just hearing them just now understand the equipment better than I could have ever explained is so exciting,” Zientek said. “The world is changing. The workforce is changing. Demand for different career fields is changing.”


The OSU staff prepares the schools and after school programs to lead and continue the lessons with their students themselves. The machines and technology stay with the tribes, and Orona said they plan to expand throughout the next several years.

“We’re piloting at three tribes so we can see how it goes, and we can continue to work on the curriculum and try to make it better every time,” she said.


CPN after-school program teacher Randy Schlachtun knew this type of experience was invaluable for his students.


“They’re doing the virtual reality, 3D printing, the engineering, all this type of computer-aided design and things like it. When you’re able to have the possibility to offer that to your students — well, I think most any administrator or superintendent, school district, would be glad to give it a try. And luckily, we were on the ground floor and able to,” he said.


Read the full article in the Hownikan July edition on page 13.

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