MSU STEP program graduates record class, receives $150K grant

Contact: Zack Plair

STARKVILLE, Miss.—The Mississippi State University Student Technology Exchange Program completed a banner year with its graduation ceremony and also secured a $150,000 grant from Entergy Mississippi to promote future growth.

A record 82 students recently graduated from the industrial robotics training program during a ceremony held in the Nissan Manufacturing and Assembly Plant’s training center in Canton. Keynote speaker Haley Fisackerly, president and CEO for Entergy Mississippi, officially announced the grant award during his remarks.

“At Entergy, our vision is ‘We Power Life.’ That means not only providing electricity, but also enriching our communities through improved educational opportunities,” Fisackerly said. “This grant is designed to promote future growth of the MSU STEP program, which is doing a great job of helping Mississippi high school students get the skills and education they need for in-demand jobs.”

Part of MSU’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems Extension program, STEP helps high school students in six Mississippi public school districts (Canton, Franklin County, Jackson, Leake County, Madison County and Senatobia-Tate) earn certifications for advanced manufacturing maintenance jobs. Nissan initiated the program in 2004, which includes a year-long regimen of both classroom learning and hands-on training at Nissan’s facility.

CAVS Extension director and research professor Clay Walden said the program is meant to create a pipeline for manufacturing employers, like Nissan, for middle-skills positions that are in high demand.

“Manufacturing is a desirable career area with high-paying jobs that allow you to learn and develop skills in advanced technology,” Walden said. “STEP gives them the fundamental understanding of that technology, whether they want to pursue a middle-skills job or continue forward to study engineering at a four-year institution.”

The program will use the Entergy grant money over two years to support its high school level curriculum, as well as summer camps for middle school students that focus on Lego robotics, said STEP director Victor Branch.

“Entergy has been one of our supporters since the beginning, but this is its biggest contribution yet,” Branch said.

More than 500 students have completed STEP over 11 years, starting with its first graduating class of 23. Branch said more than 100 students had already applied for admission to the 2016-17 class. He said most of the graduates are from underrepresented populations in manufacturing and engineering, including 75 percent who are African American.

Since 2014, STEP also has offered its participants the opportunity to complete the 45-hour FANUC Corporation online certification, which Walden said is the same certificate FANUC employees earn for automation and programmable logical control technology. Walden said only one student in the 2015 class completed the course. This year, 43 STEP graduates also earned the FANUC certificate.

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Thursday, May 26, 2016 - 10:49 am