Executive Q&A: Burns Hargis, Oklahoma State University

Burns Hargis is President of Oklahoma State University (OSU). OSU has more than 35,000 students across its five-campus system, with students from all 50 states and approximately 120 nations. OSU is home to the first Ph.D. program in Unmanned Aerial Systems and was the first major American university to offer an executive Ph.D. in business.

Q. How do Oklahoma State University and businesses work together to keep Oklahoma’s talent pipeline flowing?

A. We work with businesses to address issues they have. It could be working with the highway department on designs of roads, training county officials and the various disciplines they are focused on. It could be in helping a business figure out a better way to manufacture the product that they want to manufacture and then we do a lot of just research studies on the economic dynamics of the state which helps us develop policy.

For example the location of General Electric Research Center, one of the seven or eight research centers they have around the world they have here in Oklahoma, in Oklahoma City, was conditioned or very related to the fact that both Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma were in close proximity and could provide energy research in collaboration with general electric so that is another example where the universities work with industry.

Q. What would you tell people unfamiliar with Oklahoma about the state?

A. Oklahoma is a very nurturing place. It feels like home for people who come from out of state. We are not pretentious people. We don’t think we are better than anybody else, but we know we are just as good. We are also hungry. Oklahomans want to do more and to be better and be stronger, and I think that that kind of enthusiasm can be kind of contagious.

But from a business and industry point of view, you can get things done in Oklahoma. There are states where you couldn’t begin to talk to the mayor or talk to the governor or the secretary of commerce. You would have to go through all kinds of bureaucracy to get there and that is just not the case in Oklahoma. Everybody is very accessible. Our public officials and industry officials, and certainly our higher ed folks, are very approachable.

Q. What makes OSU graduates stand out?
A. The students here are eager. They are bright. They are talented. I certainly know that that is true at other institutions around our state – they really want to make a mark. There is a sense of ownership of community here that is going to make Oklahoma better and better. We are turning out thousands of newly minted college graduates that are eager to make their mark in the world and certainly here in Oklahoma.

Q. Oklahoma is a leader in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). What role in OSU playing in that sector?
Here at Oklahoma State we have a real emphasis on UAVs, drones if you want to be pejorative about it. While we are making great strides in the capability of these UAVs, the FAA has not caught up in terms of clear airspace in the like. Oklahoma has one of the few clear airspace runways in America.

I’d say in about five to 10 years, UAVs are going to be doing things that nobody dreamed were possible. For example, we are doing very in depth research on UAVs flying into big storms to try to understand and give warning long before we can today. But there is a myriad of other uses. They can fly over crops and decide whether they need fertilizer or not. They are a huge asset to our military and their activities.

Key facts about Higher Education in Oklahoma

  • Oklahoma has 27 public colleges and universities.
  • More than 230,000 students enrolled in Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities.
  • In 2013, more than 34,000 degrees and certificates were granted by Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities.

(Data from Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education)

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