Opinion: STEM education is Mississippi’s bridge to a brighter future

Posted on Oct 24 2017 - 7:59am by Cecil Brown

As advocates for our community, we sometimes become so focused on the fight against poverty that we don’t pause to build the bridges that will help folks actually improve their lives. Policymakers are worried about finding abundant, high quality jobs that are critical to healthy economic growth. Meanwhile, companies are scrambling to find qualified applicants to meet the growing demand. One of the bridges between the supply and demand is the development of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.

So, if there is a positive supply of skilled, high-quality jobs and there are people who need jobs, why is there a gap? The answer is two-fold: First these jobs, while accessible, require workers who are equipped with the necessary skills to do the available jobs, many of which require a basic understanding of STEM. Second, relatively few Mississippi college students go on to earn a STEM-related degree, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Fortunately, many leaders in the utility sector and in the education community are stepping up to help open new doors to STEM-based education.

A STEM education does not mean a student must become a scientist. It also does not require a university degree. Students at all levels can benefit from a STEM curriculum.

The STEM educational blueprint simply means integrating technology into the daily educational experience, trained teachers who know how to best present these subjects, inquiry-based interactive teaching methodologies and, of course, a robust curriculum with adequate knowledge assessment practices.

And a STEM-based education can help open career doors to students who traditionally find them closed. In fact, some of our energy-sector organizations such Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), in partnership with two of their Mississippi-based members Entergy and Cooperative Energy, are using STEM to grow the diversity of their workforces. They understand that being innovative players in an evolving, customer-centered marketplace requires employees of diverse cultures, backgrounds and skills.

From the electricity that powers our neighborhoods, to the water we drink, to the high-speed Internet that brings the world to our fingertips, our Mississippi utilities deliver the lifeblood of our society. Engineers, scientists, information technology professionals and math specialists are among many STEM -related careers that keep our world moving. And there are also great careers for technicians, linemen, pipeline specialists and other workers who have career and technical training but less than a four-year degree.

These opportunities are within reach – and it’s never too early or too late to prepare for a rewarding STEM-based job in the utility industry. Current job seekers can check out our webpage (http://www.psc.state.ms.us/) for a list of utility jobs and resources.

As the husband of a public schoolteacher, as a father and grandfather, my heart and passion lie in helping our Mississippi home grow and prosper for future generations. Together, let’s help connect our young people and life-long learners alike with the rewarding path of STEM careers.

Cecil Brown is Mississippi’s Central District Public Service Commissioner and a graduate of the University of Mississippi and the University of Texas from Meridian. This column was distributed by the Mississippi Press Association.