New Department Head’s Vision Includes Community Outreach, Providing for State’s Workforce Needs

Mr. Curtis Sparling standing next to a drone

R. Curtis Sparling, Head of the Department of Technology & Justice Studies

As someone who is well-acquainted with the building, repair and maintenance of drones, R. Curtis Sparling can appreciate the unique perspective they can give their operators from several thousand feet in the air.

As the new head of the Rogers State University’s Technology & Justice Studies Department, Sparling brings his own unique perspective and vision when it comes to what he sees for the future of his department.

“I became department head on the first of August, so I’ve been in the position for a little over a month,” Sparling said. “I believe that we in higher education are at a precipice, if you will, specifically with regards to workforce development, and our department is poised to meet many of those emerging workforce needs in northeastern Oklahoma.

“My overall vision for the department is for us to provide for the workforce needs of northeastern Oklahoma,” he continued. “We have a tendency within our department for our learners, once they graduate, to migrate to one of the coasts – which is great for them, but not so great for northeastern Oklahoma. So, over the last few years, I’ve made a concerted effort for community outreach, whether that’s been K-12, local industry, local businesses, etc.”

Sparling said these efforts led to the manifestation of the AeroCats STEM training team.

“The AeroCats team is basically a group of students that volunteer each semester to go with me out into the community to spread STEM awareness,” he said. “This isn’t necessarily linked to a specific degree program, but to raise awareness and interest (of STEM), to let the community know that RSU, specifically my department, can and does meet the educational needs for careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”

Sparling came to Rogers State University 10 years ago, shortly after serving in the Navy for 22 years, during which time, he was commanding officer of the USS Sentry (2010-12), executive officer of the USS Gladiator (2009-10), chief operations officer of the USS Fort McHenry (2007-09).

During his time at RSU, he has been an instructor, held the O.D. Mayor Endowed Faculty Chair, assistant professor, interim department head, organizer and advisor of AeroGames – an event in which regional school teams design, build and fly their own drone in a flight and obstacle course on campus.

Also, during his tenure at the university, Sparling wrote a degree for a cybersecurity course of study, and recently submitted the paperwork for microcredentials, which are short, focused credentials designed to provide in-demand skills, know-how and experience.

“Most organizations, whether they realize it or not, have had a cybersecurity incident, such as a data breach,” Sparling said. “Students finishing with degrees in cybersecurity typically have a job waiting for them when they walk across the stage to get their diploma. I’ve got several (former) students working at Google, Blue Cross Blue Shield – the lead cyber investigator at Conoco in Bartlesville is an RSU graduate. This is just one example of what I mean by providing for northeast Oklahoma’s workforce needs.”

Providing a quality education, meeting the state’s workforce demands and community outreach will continue to be Sparling’s goals as department head.

“RSU is competing with larger state schools, providing the same kind of educational opportunities here as the bigger schools, but at a much more economical price, producing strong, workforce-ready individuals,” he said. “This is going to continue to be our focus as we move into the future.”

For more information about RSU’s Department of Technology & Justice Studies, visit their website.