A member of OSSM’s Class of 1996, Dr. Richards is the new Vice President of Academic Services. He started work at OSSM in 2008 as a professor of biology. In addition to teaching, he has served in many other roles, including director of the Student Mentorship program, a hallmark of the OSSM education and a form of learning that integrates work experience outside of the classroom.

Why did you decide to work at OSSM after having been a student here?
I actually did not plan on being a teacher at all when I graduated from OSSM, let alone at OSSM. My original plan was to do research, but toward the end of my postdoctoral fellowship at NIMH, I was feeling burned out. My wife saw the job posting for a biology teacher at OSSM and showed it to me. She is from Oklahoma too, and we both wanted to move back to be closer to our families. I honestly figured I would be here for three or four years at most and then go back to research or move on to something else entirely.

How has OSSM changed over the years?
The biggest difference is the campus. When I was student, the MAC was the only building (we didn’t even call it the MAC, it was just “OSSM”), and everything else was vacant lots, as I recall. No residence hall, no gym, no library, no science building. We lived in the old Couch Center dorms down on the OU campus in Norman (since demolished), and we ate breakfast and dinner in the OU cafeteria. They brought our lunch to us at school in these big plastic warming trays that we affectionately called “caskets.”

What are your goals in your new position as VP?
My first goal is just to continue the tradition of academic excellence that OSSM has been known for 30 years. I don’t want to make any major changes right away, but eventually I would like to bring the school further into the 21st century with with new technology and perhaps a more modern curriculum.

One silver lining to doing remote learning this year, it’s that we can figure out what works and what doesn’t and use that to expand our virtual curriculum in the future. Someday, I would like to see a proper OSSM Online program that students from all over Oklahoma could access even if they can’t be part of the residential program.

How do we ensure that OSSM is on the cutting edge of science and math education?
Our ultimate goal is to make sure students have what they need to be successful at the college level and beyond, so I think we need to look at the universities and find out what subjects and skills that they want students to have mastered. Another way to do that is to keep up with students after they graduate and to find out how well the courses they took at OSSM prepared them. Finally, we need to give faculty the time and resources to keep up with their fields either through independent research or continuing education.

Why is OSSM unique, especially from other schools that offer a STEM-specific education?
What sets OSSM apart from other schools is that we are laser-focused on academics. At many high schools (and even at some other science and math schools), the academic program can end up getting overshadowed by extra-curricular activities. Those other activities have value too, but for OSSM students, learning is their passion, and that is what they come here for.

What do you do for fun?
Between my duties at OSSM and my family, I don’t have much free time. When I get the chance, I love watching movies with my wife, playing games with my kids and organizing my embarrassingly large LEGO collection.

Anything else?
I hope everyone has a great semester. Let’s get to work!