Cherokee Nation commits $4 million for STEM Center

May 4—The Cherokee Nation has made a $4 million commitment toward the construction of a STEM Center on the Rogers State University campus in Claremore.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., along with President Larry Rice and RSU Foundation Executive Director Susan Kirtley signed a Memorandum of Understanding which made the major gift commitment official during a press conference Wednesday, May 1.

This investment by the Cherokee Nation represents the largest single gift in the history of the Foundation and begins the effort to secure private funding to support the construction of the facility. The estimated cost is around $30 million.

President Rice called the gift "transformational" noting complementary good news received last Friday that the university is now approved to offer a Masters of Nursing degree. RSU has been a training center for nursing students since the early 1980s when an associate degree program was first established at the then junior college.

"Our first class of chemical engineering is underway," he said, and "all of these students will go through this building."

The proposed 52,000-square-foot, three-story facility will house science, technology, engineering and math classes, laboratories and office space supporting the university's STEM education programs. The proposed building will replace Loshbaugh Hall built in 1955 when the institution was Oklahoma Military Academy. The tentative target date for completion is three years.

Hoskin also announced a commitment for 10 additional Cherokee Nation nursing student scholarships, for the next 10 years, starting in the fall of 2024.

"The success of this region rises and falls on whether or not we get behind higher education," Chief Hoskin told the standing room only audience attending the MOU signing. Also attending were 16 CN officials including Deputy Principal Chief Bryan Warner. Tribal Councilors had unanimously approved the Council resolution authorizing the Chief to negotiate the terms of the MOU with the university.

The support of Tribal Councilor Kevin Easley, District 14 which includes Claremore, and Danny Callison, District 15, along with past Councilor Keith Austin were recognized.

"The success of this region rises and falls on whether or not we get behind higher education," Hoskin said. "Investing in STEM means that some of the opportunities that we've lost in the past, well we are not going to lose them in the future.

"There are going to be young Cherokee boys and girls who get their first exposure to what they can be here on this campus, when they come into this STEM building. I can imagine the STEM fairs, interactive opportunities there will be. [These] young Cherokee boys and girls will become the scientists, teachers, doctors and nurses of tomorrow because they came to this campus and through this building," Hoskin said. "They are going chart a bright course for not only the State of Oklahoma but also for the Cherokee Nation," Hoskin said.

"Part of this MOU is opportunities, creating opportunities for Cherokees today. ... The truth of the matter is the biggest opportunity we have in the Cherokee Nation is in health care, and that is because the biggest challenge is in health care — the challenge is to build a system of wellness that is world class. We are not going to do it if we don't have Cherokees taking care of Cherokees and that can only happen if we get behind [RSU's] efforts in higher education."

"With a record setting number of Cherokees attending college on scholarship, Cherokee Nation's commitment to higher education has never been stronger," said Cherokee Nation Deputy Principal Chief Bryan Warner. "We are at our best when we work with great partners like RSU."

Councilor Easley said the Cherokee Nation investment further "strengthens connections between Claremore and Tahlequah [the Cherokee Nation capital]." He noted both communities have a shared Cherokee history.

"What people don't realize is this STEM building is going to be a game changer," Easley said. "It will have a generational impact for Claremore and for Rogers County. It's going to bring talent here that's not come here before. It's a fact, kids and parents equate facilities with quality of education."

Hoskin offered a moment of reflection on the recent loss of RSU First Lady Peggy Rice, "We are one person short today and in her name and the names of so many others we are going to make this a success. The sun is rising on the Cherokee Nation. It is rising on Rogers State University and on the State of Oklahoma."