learn about our history

About Us


'OPEN' is
a family

Here at OPEN, we believe that a more informed society is a better society. Our aim is to facilitate the information exchange between STEM professionals, lawmakers, and the public.

By opening doors of communication and providing tools to enable understanding and collaboration, OPEN hopes to promote the creation of evidence-based public policy that will benefit our communities.

Whether discussing infrastructure, health, education, or agriculture, science and technology affect both public policy and the daily lives of all citizens.

When STEM experts, policymakers, and the voting public come together, public policy can have better outcomes for all.

“Science and policy-making thrive on challenge and questioning; they are vital to the health of inquiry and democracy.”

Nicholas Stern

the Board

Maria Mendez, PhD

Founder & President

Jan Bian


Jared King, MS


Hannah Bowen

Community Outreach Coordinator

Jay Patel

Public Policy Coordinator

Why we got started

Humble Beginnings

Oklahoma became my home 4 days after my 8th birthday. Coming from a city of 2 million people, rural Oklahoma was a new world for me. I was able to make “neighborhood friends” and play outside until the street lights came on; concepts that did not exist for me before. I quickly adapted and loved the freedom of exploration, the open skies, endless fields of wheat and cotton. It did not take long for me to accept the tenants of being an “Okie”: always stop if you see a car on the side of the road and no it doesn’t matter how many cars have already stopped, the ritual of Friday night lights, always greet everyone you cross paths with (absolutely EVERYONE), and small talk with strangers is not optional. I say those things with a small degree of jest, but they do represent a core value of Oklahomans- community. Oklahoma taught me at a young age that we can not do life alone, we need each other, and support one another. When I went to the OKC National Memorial for the first time, I wept for the lives of my fellow Oklahomans who were tragically taken from our community. 

As I have navigated different stages of my life from attending Oklahoma State University for my Bachelors to my journey as a scientist-in-training at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, my love for Oklahoma and its people have enriched my life in unexpected ways. Now that love and the core values instilled in me by Oklahoma have brought me to a new, exciting chapter of my life. As I matured in my training, education, and life experiences, I realized that somehow against our core values, some Oklahomans have unknowingly been left behind. Behind in the quality of education they have access to. Behind in access to grocery stores or medical care, which in some cases are hours away. Behind in the quality of life that Oklahomans deserve. 

I have never met another group of people quite like Oklahomans. Strong, proud, loyal, demanding in wanting to earn their way, and with an incredible capacity for kindness. My love for Oklahoma and desire to see her forever flourish is why I decided to embark in this new chapter. I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to serve Oklahoma and the people who helped shape the person I am today. Together with this amazing team, I can’t help but feel that the best is yet to come. 

– Maria Newhardt, Founder & President

Join Our Team

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