Making things better a goal for OSUIT president
“You always certainly want to leave a community better than you found it or any group or organization that you belong to. You want to contribute in such a way that things are better when you leave that group than when you found it, and towns like Okmulgee, they need contributions from everyone within the community no matter what level they are in or what titles they hold. We’ve got people with things to contribute to this community.”
If you’ve lived here in Okmulgee for any length of time, you’ve heard the word or expression ‘GoPo.’
It’s the term used to identify the Grand Old Post Office building in downtown, turned into student housing for Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSUIT) students.
Spearheaded by President Dr. Path, the GoPo project planning began in 2014 and was one of the most extensive renovations downtown Okmulgee had seen to date, and that was the point. Dr. Path came to Okmulgee in 2011 and from what he remembers, the downtown area was like a ‘ghost town.’
“My wife and I being new to the community, we saw fantastic buildings – nobody’s using them for anything… what a lost opportunity. And so with the resources of OSU, my goal was to take one of the worst buildings in the worst shape I could find and the building on the corner of 5th and Grand that whole block there … it was in rough, rough shape and it had been decades since anyone had occupied the upstairs; and probably over 10 years or so since there’d been any businesses on the first floor as well.
“There had been obvious water damage, some major holes in the roof structure. So there were parts of the building that were just kind of collapsing in. So my goal – and again, it’s not just about any one person – but with the resources of the college, I wanted the community to know that you’re a college town, this college wants to be part of the solution, not part of the problem … it could demonstrate that if we can bring one building back from the brink of destruction … give it back to the community bring life back into that entire block that had been blighted for so long. And just to prove a point that if we can do it with one of the worst blocks of buildings, you can do it with any other building.”
GoPo project, University and privately funded, was completed in 2017 and students were able to move in Jan. 2018. The project was a $10 million investment into Okmulgee.
Dr. Path has a habit and knack for making things new.
Before coming to Okmulgee, Dr. Path had served as Vice President and President of Northeast Community College of Norfolk, Neb., where he was directly involved in 10 new buildings being built for the college during his 10 year tenure.
Because of his contributions, the school has built a student dormitory named ‘Path Hall’ in honor of his efforts.
For Okmulgee, Dr. Path continues the “building” process. One of the ways he does this is through building bridges between the community and campus.
“I got the sense when I first moved here that some people felt that the students at OSUIT were rough around the edges,” Dr. Path said, explaining, “and kind of a rough crowd to be around and maybe dangerous to be around and nothing could be further from the truth from that. So, I spent quite a bit of my time when I was writing the column just to talk about the nature of the college students that come here with a goal.
“They don’t come to Okmulgee, Oklahoma to party, and they don’t come here because of the sports teams. We don’t have any of those. They come here they’re very serious minded and they’ve got a career goal in mind and they know the reputation of OSUIT is that if you finish a degree you’re going to go to work. And that’s their main aspiration is to go to work and then to benefit the community as well. They don’t all go back to work here and Okmulgee. Obviously, they go to work all over the country, but to wherever they do go to work. They’re going to be contributing and giving back,” he said.
FYI – OSUIT’s employment placement rate is 98%. That means nine out of 10 students have a job when they graduate from a school located right here in Okmulgee!
Dr. Path says it’s because of the partnerships OSUIT has with private businesses as well as industries.
“We have over 700 different businesses that sponsor programs and students and contribute to our labs and they pay internships for students. They’re really competing to try to get the best of the best talent out of this institution.”
Speaking of programs, Dr. Path is a connoisseur of technology and has plans for virtual training models and offering programs within the metaverse and it all started in 2020 with the pandemic.
“We’re dealing with COVID-19 and we saw many people that were quarantined around the country,” he said. “Colleges were shutting down and going to all online instruction, OSUIT had to transition to all online instruction. And for us, just visualize how difficult it is if you’re a college that is teaching students how to use tools and technologies, their hands and simulated laboratories across campus, and paid internships.
“How do you do that? How do you teach a student to climb a power pole? In a flat screen computer environment? How do you tear apart an engine? There’s a lot of things that we do that just do not translate well to the current online environment, the platform that most colleges use. Now, if you’re teaching an English class, a history class, you know, lecture and reading from textbooks. That’s not a problem. But when you’re in a lab situation with wrenches and knives and scalpels, and things like that, preparing food and culinary that’s a whole other. So, I was determined to make something good come out of the pandemic for career and technical type of education.”
It is said necessity is the mother of all inventions and Dr. Path found his idea in the gaming industry.
“I was discovering that there were some advancements happening in the gaming industry, of all places, for recreational use,” he said. “There were some really cool things that were happening, trends that were occurring within this industry and I found a company up in Tulsa by the name of Xalter VR. Xalter had been in business for about 20 years and they were really wanting to venture out to develop more virtual training, virtual environments for businesses and they were really wanting to find a college to partner with and once they learned about what OSUIT does with hands on learning, applied learning, they thought we were a perfect fit.
“So, we developed a very strong partnership to really develop things that had never been developed before in the virtual reality space and that was lifelike training modules using these headsets that you put on the VR headsets. And not just to use a virtual reality but to take advantage of all of these technologies in what their industry is calling extended reality or XR… we’re also developing a Metaverse presence with Xalter. And we’re calling it the OSUIT meta- versity and this will be it will be an app that that anyone that owns a headset can download and will be able to experience the OSU it campus in a virtual environment and learn all about our programs and study all about admissions and financial aid and how to register for classes, talk to advisors schedule appointments. So, it will become this metaverse. (It’s) presence will become just as important to colleges and businesses in the future as having a website is today, but yes we’re making some of the early steps. I think we’re the only institution in the State of Oklahoma that’s developing a Metaverse presence as we speak and I’m hoping to have that ready to unveil later this spring.”
Dr. Path is no stranger to the building and rebuilding of so-called “lost causes.” It’s actually where he flourishes the most.
For more information on OSUIT and their offerings in technology, visit their website at www.osuit.edu.