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An Interview with Adrianne Covington Graham, Executive Director/CEO of the OK Engineering Foundation and Central OK STEM Alliance                                                  

What drew you to work in STEM education?

I understand the importance of a solid math foundation to be successful in whatever career you choose. I didn’t have that, and while I made good grades in college, I avoided high level math courses because I was told at a young age that I would “never get it” and to stop interrupting class with my math questions. I received an opportunity to work within STEM education and immediately jumped on it because I want to make sure that every child has the right foundation so she isn’t pigeon holed into limited careers. Every student should have the tools and resources to pursue their dreams, and a solid math foundation is at the very root of that pursuit.

What is your background?

I worked in politics for 10 years, first working on political campaigns and then working in the OK State Senate Communications office where I wrote press releases, statements, and speeches for state senators. I then transitioned to the state’s largest teachers union where I also handled the political communications. My career then led me to higher education where I directed the adult education department and staff professional development. After 8 years in higher education, I was compelled to get back to helping PK-12 students and am fortunate enough to get to provide STEM education programs for students and professional development opportunities for teachers, mixing the best of both worlds.

You’re the Executive Director/CEO of the Oklahoma Engineering Foundation. What’s that?

OEF has evolved as the state’s longest running STEM education provider. Initially the organization was founded to provide college scholarships to students pursuing an engineering degree and has since worked to begin growing those students in middle school and high school through the MATHCOUNTS competition series, Math Clubs, the Future City Competition, and the Engineering Fair. We still provide college scholarships for students entering their junior year in college, the year when they are fully accepted into the engineering school, while also providing students with an introduction to STEM fields through our middle and high school programs. Read about our recent Leadership Academy for teachers.

What’s the significance of being in STEM Ecosystems?

COSTEMA is very grateful for our involvement in the STEM Ecosystems. We are learning from other ecosystems who have been doing this work far longer than we have but we are also learning from the new ecosystems and realize that we are all facing the same challenges – funding and providing high quality programs for our customers – students and teachers. The wealth of knowledge available to us is absolutely invaluable and I haven’t met one person who has been unwilling to share their successes and failures with us. We are learning from the best!

Tell us about your mentors.

I have several mentors – my first mentor I met when I was in higher education. He has taught me to be gracious while also standing my ground and fighting for what is right for our students. We still work together in a student leadership program and I continue to learn from him every day.

My second mentor is Xan Black. She was a member of the OEF Board when I joined the organization in 2014 and was so kind and willing to help me learn the STEM education ropes. The fact that we get to work together on a regular basis within the STEM Ecosystems is an added bonus.

Lessons I’ve learned – always keep learning and growing. The Apple iPhone isn’t the same phone as it was when it was first released so why should your organization settle for the same product year after year? Keep working to increase your impact through fun and exciting programs.