STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University has been awarded $1.49 million by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to infuse virtual reality (VR) career exploration and job training into the education-to-workforce pipeline in Clay, Kemper, Lowndes, Noxubee and Oktibbeha counties. This award is part of a recently announced $21 million package supporting 21 projects serving 211 coal-impacted counties through ARC’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative. POWER targets federal resources to communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations and coal-related supply chain industries. Additional support for Infusing Virtual Reality in the Workforce is provided by East Mississippi Community College (EMCC) and the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE).
“I commend Mississippi State University for innovating and collaborating to grow opportunities for people in their own community and neighboring communities,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “Partners like Mississippi State are integral to making our POWER projects come to life, and I look forward to seeing the ways our Appalachian Region continues to grow, thanks to the impact of their work.”
Under the project, MSU’s Research and Curriculum Unit (RCU) will partner with TRANSFRVR, an education software company that provides immersive, hands-on VR training to Fortune 500 companies, to enhance the career and technical education (CTE) infrastructure in Appalachian Mississippi. VR simulations will introduce students to numerous career pathways, including middle-skill jobs that do not require a four-year degree.
TRANSFRVR will deliver this immersive career exploration and skills training through VR to middle and high school students enrolled in Cyber Foundations and CTE courses in six area school districts—West Point Consolidated, Kemper County, Columbus Municipal, Lowndes County, Noxubee County and Starkville Oktibbeha Consolidated—and CTE students at EMCC. The VR experiences will provide students the education and training opportunities to achieve mastery, acquire confidence and earn industry-recognized credentials that will prepare them to enter Mississippi’s workforce.
EMCC will house VR labs at the Communiversity in Columbus and its Scooba campus that can be used to enhance training for its students and individuals in the workforce with support from the Golden Triangle Planning and Development District (GTPDD), Golden Triangle Development Link (LINK), PACCAR Inc. and Oktibbeha County Hospital (OCH).
“We appreciate the support of our congressional delegation, Gov. Tate Reeves and the Mississippi Office of the ARC for this important project. This generous award from ARC will support our efforts to enhance the CTE infrastructure in our region through VR,” said Betsey Smith, RCU director and principal investigator (PI) on the project. “Through this project and the support of EMCC, these school districts, TRANSFRVR, GTPDD, LINK, PACCAR and OCH, VR workforce training and career exploration will be delivered to more than 10,000 youth and many others in the industry sector. Career exploration programming is essential in getting K-12 students on pathways to well-paying jobs. Infusing VR into career exploration and job training is an innovative approach that is safe and cost-effective and offers improved learning outcomes and shorter training times.”
RCU Assistant Director for Business Operations Pam Stafford and RCU Project Manager Courtney McCubbins will act as co-PIs on the project, while RCU Senior Research Associate Denise Sibley and MSU Assistant Professor for Agricultural Education, Leadership and Communications OP McCubbins will serve as the project’s research associate and lead researcher, respectively.
APAC-Mississippi, Graham Roofing, International Paper, McCrary-West Construction Co., MDE, Southwire, Yokohama Rubber Co. and U.S. Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Roger Wicker offered additional support for the project.
Since POWER launched in 2015, ARC has invested nearly $316.6 million in 393 projects across 358 coal-impacted counties. The nearly $73 million awarded in 2021 is projected to create/retain over 10,383 jobs and attract nearly $527.3 million in leveraged private investments.
About the Research and Curriculum Unit (RCU)
Founded in 1965, the RCU contributes to MSU’s mission as a land-grant institution to better the lives of Mississippians with a focus on improving education. In particular, the RCU benefits K-12 and higher education by developing curricula and assessments, providing training and learning opportunities for educators, researching and evaluating programs, supporting and promoting career and technical education and leading education innovations. For more information about the RCU, visit rcu.msstate.edu or follow the organization on Facebook (facebook.com/rcumsu), Twitter (twitter.com/rcumsu) and Instagram (instagram.com/rcumsu).
About the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC)
The Appalachian Regional Commission is an economic development partnership agency of the federal government and 13 state governments focusing on 423 counties across the Appalachian Region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia.