STARKVILLE, Miss.--Some 240 high school students involved with Junior ROTC from Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana are recent graduates of residential training camps at Mississippi State.
Sponsored each summer by the university's leaderSTATE program, the camps provide opportunities for building leadership skills and enhancing academic development in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, typically known as STEM courses.
Funded by the U.S. Army and in partnership with MSU's Office of Student Leadership and Community Engagement, leaderSTATE also helps the JROTC members improve their physical fitness and gain exposure to a college environment.
The June camps involved four separate groups of 60 students each.
Col. Paul Willis, director of Army JROTC for the Jackson Public School District, has been involved with leaderSTATE in its current form since the beginning in 2011.
Willis said the focus on STEM courses is extremely important to the Army because of a growing need for potential future recruits that are academically competitive in a global society.
"High school students are our future leaders and it's important for us to develop the right type of student to meet the future of society," Willis said. "Programs such as leaderSTATE show the students what's possible and it does it in a college environment.
"We have to make them aware while still in high school what the possibilities are," he added. "We are in a global society and we need more professionals to continue our technological advances so that we will remain a competitive nation and a leading nation in the world."
Lt. Col. Veronica Baker of Jackson's Murrah High School also has been involved with leaderSTATE since the beginning.
"We try to cover three areas-the scholar, the athlete and the leader," Baker said. "There's physical fitness involved, team related activities to participate in, and the academic piece which involves STEM."
Charles B. "Charlie" Anderton of Columbus is among leaderSTATE co-coordinators. An aerospace engineering graduate student at MSU, he is writing a master's degree thesis that will examine the outcomes of leaderSTATE.
"We know that if you have a higher attitude towards something then you're more likely to pursue that and do well in that,"Anderton said. "We hope that by using projects in the summer camp, and in the fall outreach camp, as well, we will be able to increase their attitude toward science in hopes that it will possibly motivate them to pursue an education in science or pursue some sort of science degree or job."
To participate in leaderSTATE, students must have a 2.5 minimum grade-point average (on a 4.0 scale) and be recommended by a senior Army instructor, among other criteria.
Cade Smith, MSU assistant dean of students, leads the Student Leadership and Community Engagement Office. He said the camp experience has been found to be very rewarding for students selected to participate.
"We'll have students from across Mississippi and a few from Alabama and Louisiana that will come here and not quite know what to expect, but they will overcome their inhibitions and embrace the opportunity that is given to them," said Smith.
"There will be challenges, but we'll make it through and everyone will come out better because of the experience they've had," he added
Smith said that he and other SLCE staff members are both honored and fortunate to be joining with the U.S. Army and its JROTC programs to work with the leaders of tomorrow.
"They're young men and women from various social classes and family resources, races and political perspectives that come together to learn how to work together to do something that's meaningful," Smith said. "To think that we give these cadets from all these different walks of life an opportunity to learn about the opportunities that are available in higher education such as career and educational opportunities in STEM is really great.
"I have no doubt that we're planting seeds that will bear fruit in the future that's not only going to benefit these students but society," Smith said.