We've heard it our whole lives: get good grades, get into college, get a degree, get a job, get married, get kids.
It's that second one that's a huge deal, though, since pretty much everything after it is directly affected by it. Go to the wrong school, and your life is vastly different than it would have been.
What makes a college right or wrong for an individual can be any number of things, whether the right major isn't available, or the campus is too small or too big, or you end up just not fitting in, or you can't afford it after all. There are as many reasons as there are transferring rising sophomores.
Thankfully for us, we have a collection of award-winning colleges and universities in and around the Tulsa area.
But that wasn't always the case. It wasn't too long ago that Tulsa was somewhat under-represented in the world of higher public education. Since those days -- the days when, if you were staying in-town for college and couldn't afford the private tuition of the University of Tulsa, you went to Tulsa Junior College and got giggled at for doing so -- educational options have blossomed here in our little berg.
From the traditional, undergraduate and graduate programs at public universities like OU and OSU to the private ORU and TU to the tech schools and for-profit entities like Virginia College and the University of Phoenix, there's a hell of a lot t choose from.
Each school retains its own one-of-a-kind personality, paving the way for a unique academic experience within definitive and comprehensive programs. Also, it goes without saying that these course offerings come at much more affordable prices in comparison to out-of-state colleges. And hey, that's something.
There are so many fields of study to choose from these days, and there's a really good communications school really close by.
The primary campus of Rogers State University in Claremore is a dream college for communication majors. Students can also attend RSU at the current Bartlesville and the upcoming Pryor campuses. RSU Claremore affords students a chance to study this discipline as an undergrad in three ways. First, the communication arts option prepares students to become skilled oral communicators in careers like political campaigns or media planning. Secondly, corporate communication majors advocate on the behalf of organizations, from governmental to non-profits. This is where public relations and advertising comes in. Thirdly, the radio/television option comes in handy for broadcast media jobs in news reporting, camera operating, and the like.
Dr. Holly Kruse, RSU associate professor of communication, thinks that RSU does a good job teaching critical thinking and writing skills. These proficiencies benefit students in a broad range of professions, from the aforementioned career paths to other areas, such as business or law.
"I think (RSU) communication majors are prepared really well to be communicators, even if they pursue another area," Kruse said. Of course, communication majors must be able to communicate in written, oral, and visual formats, starting with practice in the classroom.
"People from other departments (at RSU) are very impressed by how much our students are required to get up and talk. Students have been giving a lot of presentations," she said.
Kruse believes that communication skills and knowledge of media are important for nearly any career, now more than ever. She noticed that "one trend is that communication jobs require people to know a little about a lot of things." She cited the newspaper industry decline as a clear example.
"People at newspapers are asked to have a blog and be a reporter, and maybe be a videographer, too, as media gets downsized," she said.
Avid radio listeners may have recently encountered the phenomenal student-run 91.3 RSU station. RSU's 91.3 garnered the Best Station for Music and Favorite Radio Personality awards in UTW's Absolute Best of Tulsa awards. RSU also has a public television station that is not student-run, but "does hire (RSU) graduates, and a lot of students intern there." Kruse said. The estimated attendance of a full-time student for a year at RSU will run an Oklahoma resident $20,071.
Pretty much anyone who's ever set foot on a college campus has heard of the MRS degree, but that tired old gag belies the terrific legacy of outstanding teacher education programs offered by local schools.
Tulsa's Oral Roberts University fully equips undergrad instructors to teach nearly every level of education. This includes basic PreK-12 classes, special education courses, and less traditional subjects. The teacher candidates themselves determine the route they take as educators, whether teaching at private and public schools, online, or homeschooling.
ORU's College of Education Dean Dr. Kim Boyd, said "(ORU) believes that teachers need to be prepared on day one to make a difference in the lives of students and have a positive influence on student learning." ORU achieves this by expecting potential teachers to maintain and eventually complete an electronic portfolio called Chalk & Wire.
Chalk & Wire ePortfolios have become a popular tool for teacher programs at institutions of higher education, including ORU. Hopeful teachers compile all of their work in the education program, called competencies, into their ePortfolio. Boyd described these skills as "competencies that every teacher must know and be able to do when they walk away from (ORU's) teacher education program." She also believes the ePortfolio's collection of competencies play a "critical" role in training future educators.
"(ORU) uses an electronic portfolio to collect data, because we assess those papers and use the data from that to determine whether or not our candidates are achieving the competencies," she said.
If someone struggles with a particular competency, the e-Portfolio easily targets what weakness the individual is experiencing. ORU can then find out how they can help the person improve in those areas.
Education majors must meet all eighteen competencies, which the religious university has rewritten with their mission in mind.
"We believe we are preparing Christian educators, which means you have to have a personal relationship with the Lord," Boyd continued. "Every course one takes (in the education department), they're going to find out what the biblical principles are behind classroom management."
The underlying spiritual foundation supplements everything from teaching reading to teaching special needs children. An educational technology lab and classroom media center for education majors comprised of all the latest technology also supplements the program.
However, one wonders how much supplement ORU's program needs in the face of a jaw-dropping stat:
"Ninety-five percent of (ORU's) candidates are offered positions at the schools that they do their student teaching internship with," Boyd said. "I believe almost 100 percent of our graduating candidates have jobs for this coming fall. That's huge."
ORU's estimated cost of attendance during the year for full-time students is $31,804.
Northeastern State University's renowned teaching program proves to be an easy choice for education majors. NSU's Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Pam Fly says the institution "is proud of its teacher education roots." Students can attend NSU completely online or in a face-to-face atmosphere at the Broken Arrow, Muskogee, or Tahlequah campuses. The NSUBA location houses several community service clinics, including one for "reading and math tutoring that serves area school children," Fly said. What better way for teacher hopefuls to practice teaching than by finding solutions to student's problems through real interactions? One can read about how to teach in books, or pass classroom exams, but they will never truly know the joy (and challenges) of teaching until actually performing in reality. The specialized clinics "provide opportunities for (NSU) students to apply their learning and serve at the same time," Fly said.
Recent art education graduate Ashlyn Metcalf knows the ins-and-outs of instruction. First of all, the third-generation teacher nurtures her pupils' creative minds during art lessons at Pinot's Palette and Michael's. Secondly, she recently landed a sweet gig as an art educator at Nathan Hale High School.
But Metcalf credits her initial beginning at NSU Tahlequah as paving the way to her successes.
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"I wanted to try to get into an art school, but my parents wanted me to go to NSU," she said. During her tour of NSU, the studio gallery's "phenomenal" artwork caught her eye.
"I thought, 'OK, I can attend NSU and I won't be giving up my art dream. It'll still be doable," she said. Metcalf implements tactics she, herself, utilized as a student in her own classroom. Metcalf remembers her revered instructor, Sylvia Hunter, giving pointers for the education majors.
"She said, 'Don't tell them all the advice at first. Let the students attempt it first. If they don't understand, then give them advice,'" Metcalf recalled.
NSU's rigorous training without a doubt challenged Metcalf as a student. But a little bit of blood, sweat, and tears goes a long way. During job interviews, Metcalf "felt the most prepared of the teacher candidates, especially compared to others from different schools." Metcalf received four job offers from the five interviews she attended. More than anything, Metcalf looks forward to making a difference in her student's lives. During her teacher internships she realized: "A lot of the kids didn't have the chances I had. If I can help them through it, it will be the most rewarding thing."
While teaching gigs will be around as long as there is compulsory education and children to throw into classrooms, perhaps the most recession-proof job there is -- especially as the Baby Boomers are retiring, aging, and dying -- is in the health science field.
And one of the many places to get an education to prepare for entering that field used to be a JuCo.
Oklahoma's most extensive two-year school, Tulsa Community College, houses four campuses in the Tulsa area -- the Metro, Northeast, Southeast, and West locations.
Whiz-kid Hunter Gorneck recently obtained three associate's degrees from TCC in science and pre-med, chemistry, and physics. This overachiever attended about twenty hours of classes per semester, rendering him a worthy source on the college's program offerings. Community colleges, such as TCC, exclusively hand out degrees at the initial associate's stage.
"This is an associate's, so students are getting their pre-requisites out of the way," Gorneck explained. TCC pupils routinely transfer to universities that provide higher levels of education post-graduation. "In pre-med, students are supposed to transfer, and eventually go to med school as well," he said.
TCC simply lays down the groundwork for future possibilities with "basic, introductory" classes. Therefore, the more specific courses of study come at a later date. The anatomy and physiology classes required Gorneck and his classmates to perform EKGs on each other.
"We monitored the heart rate, like breathe in versus breathe out," he said. "Hyperventilating -- how much oxygen you're actually getting in." But first, the students had to get their hearts racing. "There were times when we'd spin each other in a chair, or have to run up and down stairs, and then monitor each other," he said.
Although Gorneck plans on attending Cornell this fall in pursuit of his radiology degree, he sees TCC as a springboard for student success.
"I think a lot of people wouldn't be able to jump into a four-year education without help. At TCC, students have to research what major they're going into, or what courses they want to pursue. After that, they can still go on schedule and make it their experience," he said.
The problem-solving nature of x-rays demand specialists to actively seek a solution, which draws Gorneck to radiology.
"There's this line right here, is it a fracture or a break? You're investigating, hunting for it," he said. The OU School of Community Medicine and the University of Tulsa will begin selecting scholars for a four-year program in 2015. Gorneck hopes to finish his studies at Cornell by that time, since he aspires to participate in the brand-new development. TCC costs $16,426 per year for full-timers.
Tulsa's Community Care College (CCC) is a popular career institution for speedy-yet-efficient technical training. While CCC primarily focuses on healthcare majors, the school additionally provides degrees in business, education, and paralegal disciplines. The demand, not to mention the lucrative payoff, of dental assistants poses an intriguing opportunity for interested students. The Occupational Outlook Handbook states that the projected growth of employment for this field from 2008 to 2018 skyrockets at 36 percent -- a rapid spurt compared to the all-encompassing occupation average. Dental assistant salaries range from $22,000-$46,000. Sounds decent, right?
Students learn the basics of chair-side assisting in a hands-on process, including competent dental care, routine laboratory work, and tray set-ups. CCC equips assistants for patient treatment preparation, instrument sterilization procedures, taking alginate impressions, and dental radiography. CCC's future dental assistants learn their trade in less conventional ways as well, including visits from guest speakers and field trips. A grocery store scavenger hunt required the class to locate prices, nutritional value, and substitutes of specific foods. After all, we are what we eat -- our teeth certainly reflect that. Dental assistants retain a variety of work options once they graduate. For instance, they can receive employment from general dentists or specialists in atmospheres ranging from the military to clinics.
While there's always a need for healthcare, there is perhaps an equal need for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, as well. Tulsa Alliance for Engineering offers STEM scholarships, available through partnerships with various schools locally, from trade schools to four-year universities. TCC and OSU-Tulsa work in a partnership, affording STEM scholarship recipients a chance to study in an assortment of programs, such as aviation. As a STEM student, Gorneck enjoyed the perks of the scholarship while attending TCC.
"STEM requires students to go to three different seminars, and talk and learn about science. Students get a tour of the labs, and that gets them outside of the classroom," he said.
TCC's website provides a core checklist for scholars interested in gaining admittance to the STEM program. According to that site, STEM majors must be enrolled at TCC, have a 3.0 GPA, and supply the community college with two letters of recommendation. If the pupils haven't taken the ACT, they must make a minimum score of twenty-four on TCC's placement assessment.
Aviation Sciences degrees are only available in the alliance between TCC and OSU-Tulsa. Potential aviators that wish to become a part of the groundbreaking program transfer from TCC to OSU-Tulsa after the two-year mark.
"(OSU-Tulsa) has a program that no one else has except for TCC, but we need them to have it, because that's where our students study it for the first two years," said Susan Tolbart, who serves as OSU-Tulsa's director of recruitment and student development.
At TCC, students can receive associate of applied science degrees in four aviation options: air traffic control, aviation management, aviation maintenance, and professional piloting. OSU-Tulsa offers aviation transfer students higher level opportunities with a bachelor's degree in aerospace administration and operations.
Talk about hands-on learning outside the classroom -- students actually fly planes! Tulsa Technology Center offers an Aviation Maintenance Technology program where pupils can earn their A&P license. Additionally, aviation students from TCC and OSU-Tulsa train at their Private Pilot Ground School.
"Tulsa Tech has an airport out in Jenks, so that's where students can get fly time," Tolbart said. The flight school comes in handy for potential aviators in all areas. "OSU-Tulsa gets some students that will complete their course work and then they're trying to get some licensing along with that. You have to accumulate so many flight hours," she explained.
While the world needs engineers and teachers and pilots and aviation mechanics, it also needs purveyors of the arts.
Believe it or not, University of Tulsa musical theatre director Machele Miller Dill left her job specializing as a reproductive endocrinology chemist to become an actor. Some may argue that theater isn't exactly the most reasonable degree, but Dill perfectly exemplifies how it can be.
When she began resenting her chemist job, she began embracing her acting work wholeheartedly. Her talent displayed true promise, and she even began receiving pay for her character portrayals.
After earning her first two chemistry degrees and practicing the profession, Dill's passion led her to college once again. This time around, Dill focused on a master's degree in acting.
"(People) don't need a degree to be an actor, but it helps," she said. "I had a baby (during) grad school, and because of that, I couldn't just swan off to Chicago. I had to be practical."
Luckily for Dill, her musical theater director title requires that she still acts in addition to teaching at TU. For her, the perks overflow in abundance -- from previously spending every summer in New York to performing one-woman shows in Ireland.
"I still act. I still do things. All of that is a personal story that says, 'I went from a job that's supposed to be job security, and I make three times what I made then (as a chemist),'" she said.
Dill explained that roots in theater thoroughly develop students for a wide range of careers. Dill has worked with colleagues and taught students from musical theater backgrounds, and each pursued careers from lawyers to news anchors.
"Theater people frequently lead conferences and workshops on how to communicate effectively within a company," she said. She has even trained others on how to sell products. "Theater is about reading body language, creating a human being on stage. If someone is trying to sell a product, you teach them how to be human while selling a product."
The TU theater department explores all avenues of performances, from entertaining 6,000 people with Shakespearean plays at the Guthrie Green to the more controversial production of Spring Awakening.
"People want something new and fresh. We're not leaving the old (plays) behind, but we're doing some pretty cutting-edge stuff," she said. For instance, TU Theater often incorporates LED projection screens during their performances and is one of the only undergrad projection design programs in the nation
"Our projections can move and can be interactive. They can do live, streaming feed," she said. "(The projection screens) can show someone walking toward the audience on the screen. All of a sudden, they can physically come out of it onto the stage," she said. The estimated yearly cost of attendance for a full-time student is $45,051.
Not to be left out of the fine arts, a music education is a fine thing to have, as well, and Oklahoma, it turns out, is one hell of a place to get one.
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As far as other schools go, they may excel by demonstrating performance and visual art for culture's sake. But according to dean and professor of music at Oklahoma Baptist University, Ken Gabrielse, this liberal arts institution aims for another purpose.
"(OBU) believes the essence of all art flows from God. God intended all art to point people to the redemption offered in Jesus," he said. OBU's integral Christian mission guides the entire college's progression moving forward, and leaves no stone unturned concerning its operation. This very reason may compel Christians with creative minds to attend the university. Gabrielse considers that, "Students may favor OBU (because) they want to study in a setting challenging them to be great artists who labor in the redemptive mission of Christ."
The design of the music education program intends to transform music education majors into certified teachers as an end result. The qualified music instructors could teach the PK-12 age group in public schools, whether vocally or instrumentally. Most of these majors begin learning the instruction process by coaching voices or instruments in the OBU Preparatory School. OBU music scholars can also obtain undergraduate degrees in musical arts, music composition, and vocal or piano performance.
OBU amply provides opportunities for the up-and-coming architects of melody to have their voices (and instruments) heard. These events more often than not result in sweet rewards.
"Our voice students travel yearly to compete in National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) competitions," Gabrielse said. These pupils also go for the gold statewide. "Many of (OBU's) singers have placed very high or won their respective divisions." OBU's brightest stars receive their chance to shine during the university's own concerto-aria competition, enabling them to collaborate with a professional orchestra. But that's not all.
Recently, OBU's combined choirs premiered a piece commemorating the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination. OBU's professor of music composition, Dr. James Vernon, composed the original work called The Glow From That Fire.
It incorporated the "complete rendering of JFK's 1961 inaugural speech," Gabrielse said. "A group of our students and faculty will participate in producing the same work in NYC's Lincoln Center. (OBU) is excited about this opportunity." The estimated cost of attendance for students in the 2013-2014 year is $28,202.
So there are plenty of fields to study. And there are plenty of places to do so. But there are more local options than many people know about, so before heading off to spend a future earnings on an out-of-state education, consider the local education economy.
The more you know...
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