MSU, Appalachian Regional Commission, local partners kickoff virtual reality career and job training initiative

A group photo of MSU and ARC officials at the Communiversity
MSU and Appalachian Regional Commission officials celebrated a kickoff event for a new initiative that uses virtual reality to enhance career exploration and job training. Pictured, from left, is MSU Associate Vice President for Corporate Engagement and Economic Development Jim Martin, Research and Curriculum Unit Director Betsey Smith, Associate Vice President for Research Administration Teresa Gammill, RCU Assistant Director for Business Operations Pam Stafford, ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Conelly Manchin, ARC Executive Director Brandon McBride, RCU Curriculum Manager Courtney McCubbins and RCU Senior Research Associate Denise Sibley. (Submitted photo)

Contact: James Carskadon

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State University is kicking off an Appalachian Regional Commission-funded initiative to expand career exploration and job training opportunities in five counties by implementing virtual reality.

MSU’s Research and Curriculum Unit hosted a kickoff event this week with state and federal ARC representatives, as well as representatives from local community colleges, K-12 education, economic development authorities, state government and congressional staffs. Held at East Mississippi Community College’s Communiversity, the meeting brought together stakeholders for a day of networking as several organizations will begin the process of implementing immersive career exploration and skills training to middle and high school students in Clay, Kemper, Lowndes, Noxubee and Oktibbeha counties.

Earlier this year, MSU was awarded $1.49 million for the project through ARC’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative, which supports communities affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations and coal-related supply chain industries. Additional support for the project is being provided by EMCC and the Mississippi Department of Education.

RCU will partner with an education software company to develop virtual reality simulations that will introduce students to numerous career pathways, including middle-skill jobs that do not require a four-year degree. EMCC will house virtual reality labs at the Communiversity and its Scooba campus that can be used to enhance training for students and individuals in the workforce.

“This ARC award will support our efforts to enhance the CTE infrastructure in our region through virtual reality,” said Betsey Smith, RCU director and principal investigator. “Through this project, 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 and considering a career decision. Infusing VR into career exploration and job training is an innovative approach that is safe, cost-effective and offers improved learning outcomes and shorter training times.”

Smith thanked the many partners that have made this project possible and will play key roles in its successful implementation, including EMCC, Noxubee, Lowndes, Columbus, Starkville, West Point and Kemper school districts, Golden Triangle Planning and Development District, Golden Triangle Development LINK, FORGE, PACCAR and OCH Regional Medical Center.

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Friday, September 23, 2022 - 9:10 am