NSPARC team introduces research to 8th graders at Biloxi expo

Contact: Carol Gifford

BILOXI, Miss.—Team members from Mississippi State University’s National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center spent part of this week introducing research to 8th grade students at the Pathways2Possibilities (P2P) career expo at the Mississippi Coast Convention Center in Biloxi.

In its third year, P2P is an interactive career expo that includes 19 pathways aligned with academic clusters that students choose to study in high school. About 6,500 students from the six counties along the coast, including students from public, private, home-school and special workforce development programs and alternative schools, attended the event.

“This is the perfect time to engage students,” said Karen Sock, one of the P2P organizers. “Research shows that students at this age are becoming more self-aware and understand what they are good at, and what they like doing in school.”

A new addition to the 2015 career expo, NSPARC is part of the information technology pathway, recognizing the research center’s work in software development, data analytics and data warehousing.

“NSPARC’s youthful and engaging team draws students to the booth,” Sock said. “The computer-based coding game is fun and involves teaching and skill. A lot of 8th graders have an interest in technology.

“Technology is important because every single one of the career pathways available to students will have a technology component,” she added. “Energy, medicine, engineering, human services – all will involve the use of technology.”

Domenico “Mimmo” Parisi, executive director of NSPARC, said “We talk about research and how NSPARC’s research includes the use of data to help policymakers make better decisions.”

Jed Pressgrove, one of the four NSPARC team members at the event, said the team strives to make their exhibit fun. “You can see in their eyes that they are excited about the different displays. They like to play the video game and then sign a poster that they were a ‘Programmer for a Day.’”

Students also put together puzzles at the NSPARC booth to follow the steps in the research process, and they wrote nearly 200 personal notes to Gov. Phil Bryant in the style of a “report.”

“Our employers and volunteers at the event say it’s invaluable to see the spark in student’s eyes when they see something they never thought of before,” said Sock, who noted there are 157 companies and 760 volunteers at the expo. “The employers look at these young people as potential future employees.

“Attending the expo can be a life-changing event for students,” she explained. “Many students come here with no idea of what they want to do in the future and this is their first introduction to different careers.”

For more about NSPARC, visit www.nsparc.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.