STARKVILLE, Miss.--Mississippi State's provost and executive vice president this week visited a class of 20 high school seniors at Jackson Academy who are digging into a new engineering course in which they will earn college credit.
Jerry Gilbert said MSU and Jackson State University are partnering to teach the college freshman level course at JA's campus. The two universities signed a memorandum of understanding this summer with hopes of expanding to other high schools in the future.
Early exposure to an engineering course for students considering majoring in the field should help them make decisions about future education plans with confidence, Gilbert said. He added that he was eager to meet students during the first week of class, and he took the opportunity to bring the JA students their MSU identification cards.
Kenneth Hughey, an MSU engineering alumnus who recently retired from Entergy Mississippi, is leading the face-to-face course at Jackson Academy. He is employed as an MSU part-time professor. Hughey retired from industry after 28 years and most recently worked as Entergy's vice president of nuclear business development.
Gilbert said MSU vetted Hughey's credentials in accordance with the recognized standards of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) in the same process it does with all university faculty. The teacher's industry background will offer students a unique perspective, he added.
JA President Cliff Kling said the talented students enrolled in the course represent nearly 25 percent of the school's senior class. Students had to meet stringent enrollment requirements.
Hughey said while the course adheres to both JA and MSU policies, the course is distinct in that it truly is a university course offered at the high school. The students enrolled may apply the college credit at either MSU or JSU, or any other institution of higher learning.
"How delighted we are to have you," Gilbert said, also bringing greetings from MSU President Mark E. Keenum. "You are MSU students. We view this as a great outreach for MSU, and we are delighted to have you as part of the university."
The course is nearly identical to a freshman engineering course offered at MSU's Starkville campus, but Gilbert said it has been modified from the original chemical engineering focus of the model course to offer a comprehensive overview and introduction to multiple engineering fields.
MSU's James Worth Bagley College of Engineering offers degree programs in eight different academic engineering departments, including agricultural and biological engineering; aerospace engineering; chemical engineering; civil engineering; electrical and computer engineering; computer science; industrial engineering and mechanical engineering.
In addition to welcoming the students on behalf of MSU, Gilbert, who served eight years as the agricultural and biological engineering department head before moving into executive administration, also spoke to the class specifically about the biological and biomedical engineering fields.
Gilbert recalled his interest in math and physics, but he said biology was the subject he was most passionate about in high school. He said when he learned about MSU's biological engineering program, which in 1968 became the first such program in the country, he knew the application of engineering principles applied to biological systems was the right fit for him.
He said biomedical engineering applies problem-solving approaches to the human body, and he described his previous research projects to improve prosthetic limbs for amputee patients. The talk covered not only the importance of mechanics, but Gilbert also emphasized the critical nature of choosing the best materials for specific purposes, such as noncorrosive metals for human surgical implants -- like the medical grade stainless steel hip screw he showed the class. Gilbert said while his own work involved developing and improving medical devices, the type utilized by orthopedic surgeons, the biological engineering field offers vast opportunities from bioenergy research to tissue engineering.
Kling said the content of the course and guest speakers like Gilbert will allow students to connect the classroom learning to real world problems and career paths.
"Engineering is an interdisciplinary subject that utilizes the teamwork of different experts to approach a challenge. When students see that they can apply the concepts they are learning in class to scenarios in real life, we see their engagement increase. This engineering course will help students determine if this is something they want to pursue further in college and as a career," Kling said.
Hughey said team challenges throughout the semester will simulate how engineers work with other engineers from various disciplines and with other professionals, such as accountants, lawyers, chemists and biologists.
Throughout the semester Hughey has planned for additional guest speakers, as well as at least two field trips. In September, the students will visit MSU's Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems Extension Center in Canton as well as tour the Nissan plant. In October, the class will travel to MSU's Starkville campus.
For more information about Mississippi State, visit www.msstate.edu.