A woman of mighty intellect and drive, Trishia Masterson serves as one-half of the faculty administering Ottawa County's first onsite pre-engineering course for regional high school students.

AFTON– Down a sparse hall in Building A at the Afton campus of Northeastern Technology Center is where you'll find Trishia Masterson most weekdays. A woman of mighty intellect and drive, she serves as one-half of the faculty administering Ottawa County's first onsite pre-engineering course for regional high school students.

Entering her classroom, there is no mistaking the passion behind her process in providing an accessible and impressionable education in advanced math and preliminary engineering. Detailed illustrations line a back wall above computer stations providing the schematics of iconic objects such as the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars and a NASA Space Shuttle.

Rows of desks are arranged to allow students to readily collaborate while the center of the room is left wide open, serving as space for hands-on experimentation. In the background, a 3-D printer hums along in its work to produce small plastic pieces needed for the model sized solar vehicles the current class has been building.

Amongst it all, Masterson stands with a posture that reads she is excited to be there, even after all of her years as a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) educator in rural northeast Oklahoma.

Masterson has always had an affinity for math and science, but a pivotal moment in her junior year of high school in Wyandotte helped solidify her career path.

A member of the high school's math academic team, Masterson returned from competition to find a key course selection had been modified on her upcoming semester schedule. She had requested Algebra 2 but was instead placed in Home Economics. When she questioned the change and asked for her schedule to be reverted, she found herself face-to-face with the lingering misconception that STEM pursuits are no place for a woman.

"So when I asked why I had been put in Home Economics and to have it switched back to Algebra 2, I was given a flat no," she explained. "The principle at the time told me Home Economics would serve me much better in life than Algebra."

While the incident deeply frustrated her, Masterson said it was more like a fire being sparked. Not only was she then determined to get into Algebra 2 but also inspired to see just how far she could go.

"It was like, 'Well, I'll show you,'" Masterson recalled with a slight chuckle."I think it was a really pivotal moment. It really pushed me."

Masterson was finally placed in Algebra 2 after her mother, and then her father pushed for it with the school principle. She said both her parents backed her and were just as determined as she was to have her take the class she wanted.

When asked if that principle has since been able to see her STEM career blossom, she laughed explaining they are now neighbors and get along well.

After graduating from Wyandotte High School Masterson went on to earn undergraduate degrees in Math with an Associates from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College and a Bachelors from Missouri Southern State University. She then went on to earn her Masters in Educational Leadership from Southern Nazarene University.

Masterson's career as an educator stands out for several reasons. Not only is she a woman with concentrations in traditionally male-dominated fields, but she has also consistently committed herself to teaching locally and making extended subjects accessible in school districts not always equipped to meet the needs of advanced students.

For 12 years, Masterson taught standard and advanced math at Wyandotte Public Schools. For the 2015/2016 school year, she served as a Pre-Engineering Instructor at NTC's Pryor High School satellite before taking her role to the newly established Afton program for the current academic year.

Framing her drive as an educator, Masterson expressed that one of her biggest motivations is seeing how students grow within the program and continuing to encourage girls to pursue STEM studies.

"It's great to see how they grow. Learning teamwork and really starting to get a clear idea of their path. For some, this is the first place they've really felt comfortable to be themselves," said Masterson. "Some of these students are really being challenged for the first time. I've had students tell me they actually had to put in more hours to study or thank me for getting their first B. This is a program where they are being pushed to be their best."

Asked what message she would like to convey to girls wanting to enter STEM studies or those who are curious but intimidated, Masterson spoke to the social pressures young women face and the importance of accessibility.

"Girls face a lot of pressure. There is a lot of social pressure not to be too smart," she said. "And it's everywhere. Just look at what's in magazines for girls versus what is geared toward boys. All the focus is on looks and being liked. It's not easy, and it can be intimidating in some areas, but we need to keep encouraging girls in math and science.

"We need to make sure they have access and to let them know they can do it. Sometimes they'll find themselves in a room full of boys, but that's okay. It's important that they can be themselves. Really find out if they want to do something in math or STEM, or anything."

About the Pre-Engineering Program

NTC's pre-engineering program is a two-year academy emphasizing academics and engineering principles to provide students with a strong foundation to excel in a post-secondary engineering pathway, according to the NTC course description.

It requires 960 hours of coursework that includes Civil Engineering and Architecture, Aerospace Engineering, Engineering Design and Development, as well as AP Calculus and Physics. The curriculum utilized is from Project Lead The Way (PLTW), which provides lesson plans in the engineering pathway that engage students in compelling, real-world challenges that help them become better collaborators and thinkers.

Classes for the pre-engineering program are currently held on the Claremore and Pryor High School campuses taught by NTC instructors and onsite at NTC's Afton campus.

The continuance of the onsite program at NTC's Afton campus hinges primarily on the number of qualified students who apply and are accepted from approximately 13 regional high schools.

Afton's program has been confirmed for the next academic year with Masterson and her colleague Jeremy Radebaugh again serving as instructors. Current qualifying students will return for their second year and a new round of first-year participants will join the program. Masterson said about 21 new students are now engaged in the acceptance process for the 2017/2018 year in Afton.