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Hands-On Science Center Board selects Oakley to lead Arnold AFB STEM program

Olga Oakley is the new director of the Arnold Air Force Base STEM program.

Olga Oakley is the new director of the Arnold Air Force Base STEM program.

Olga Oakley shows children how to use Colby, the robotic coding mouse, during a program at the Coffee County Library. The Hands-On Science Center Board of Directors recently hired Oakley to direct the Arnold Air Force Base STEM program.

Olga Oakley shows children how to use Colby, the robotic coding mouse, during a program at the Coffee County Library. The Hands-On Science Center Board of Directors recently hired Oakley to direct the Arnold Air Force Base STEM program.

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, TENN. -- Olga Oakley decided to take her young son Oliver to the Hands-On Science Center one Friday after first hearing about the interactive museum during an event at the Coffee County-Manchester Public Library.

From the moment she stepped inside the facility that aims to spur children’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math, Oakley knew she wanted to be a part of it.

“They just had so many exhibits of different concepts that I learned in school,” she said. “I learned from labs, from demonstrations, and I just thought, ‘Wow, this is like I’m in school again.’”

Oakley’s new role will provide her with even greater involvement at the facility that left such a strong first impression upon her. The HOSC Board of Directors recently selected Oakley to serve as the new full-time Arnold Air Force Base STEM Director.

Through a partnership with the Air Force, the Arnold STEM Center was recently closed, and learning tools and program support was transferred to the HOSC. Because of this, Oakley will perform her new job duties primarily from the HOSC rather than Arnold AFB.

Oakley will be responsible for executing the existing Arnold AFB STEM program while working to further grow the program.

Jim Jolliffe, president of the HOSC Board of Directors, said Oakley is more than up to the task.

“She’s smart, professional, energetic and eager to execute and grow the program,” he said.

Oakley’s hire as the Arnold AFB STEM director became effective on March 17, but she was already quite familiar with what the job would entail and the Center from which she will carry out those duties. Since January, Oakley had worked as a part-time staff assistant at the HOSC, a position she landed after contacting the facility to offer praise and request involvement following her initial visit.

“It was evident from the first day that she had the energy, the excitement and the desire to become a full-time employee if we ever got to that point,” Jolliffe said, adding the new position was created after the HOSC took over managment of the Arnold AFB STEM program.

During her time as a HOSC staff assistant, Oakley worked closely with Arnold Air Force Base STEM Coordinator Jere Matty, who retired on March 8. Oakley said the more she spoke with Matty and the more activities put on by Arnold AFB STEM she observed, the more enthusiastic she became about the program.

“I asked so many questions,” she said. “I just wanted to know how everything worked, and Jere was more than happy to explain and go through all the Air Force STEM equipment. He showed me the planetarium, the wind tunnels, [and] the 3-D printer. It was all so interesting to me, and I couldn’t wait to learn it all.”

Oakley, an Illinois native, earned her bachelor’s in biological science from the University of Illinois at Chicago. As she was finishing her degree, Oakley worked as a pediatric research assistant in the Pediatric Lab at the university. She also worked in the lab following her graduation. She has a published research paper from Argonne National Laboratory on the Ecological study of evasive species and its environmental impact.

She has also worked for CVS Health and earned the Girl Scout Gold Award while in high school.

Oakley moved to the region several years ago with her husband. Last year, Oakley worked as a substitute preschool teacher in the area.
Oakley said she is looking forward to continuing her work with the multitude of volunteers who have helped make the Arnold AFB STEM program possible. She said she is especially looking forward to working with children from throughout the region and getting them excited about STEM.

“STEM is just integrating more and more into one subject,” Oakley said. “With technology always improving and developing day by day, children from a young age should learn the importance of STEM. Children after all are the future, and with the STEM program we want to help children stimulate their minds and see the possibilities by creating, problem-solving, innovating and critical thinking.”

And Jolliffe said the transfer of the Arnold AFB STEM program to HOSC will not only allow for the continuance of a longstanding partnership between the Base and the Center, it will provide many more children with access to the STEM program.

“I think it was a great decision on the part of the Air Force to recognize that the Hands-On Science Center is the right organization to take on the stewardship,” Jolliffe said. “Immediately upon moving the program from Arnold Air Force Base to the Hands-On Science Center, it increased access from 7,000 children to nearly 20,000 children just based on the throughput we have today.

“We believe that because of the program and the additional exhibits and workshops it provides that we’ll grow the Hands-On Science Center traffic to more kids than just the 20,000, and I think it’s exciting for the Air Force and the Hands-On Science Center to continue our partnership.”

Oakley has thus far been busy in her new post, leading activities and demonstrations both at the HOSC and offsite, being on hand for field trips from visiting elementary schools, and teaching homeschool classes at the HOSC. She has also been in contact with teachers and organizations to seek their involvement in upcoming programs and possible involvement in future programs.

“I’m just really excited to not only grow with the Hands-On Science Center but to work with Arnold Air Force Base,” Oakley said. “They’re such a great organization in our community that impacts it so much. Tullahoma is an aerospace town and the Southern Middle Tennessee region the Hands-On Science Center serves is an aerospace center of excellence. I am excited to collaborate with many organizations and schools and to learn all about STEM while teaching and making a difference to children here in Middle Tennessee.”