By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal
Last week, a class of nine students from North and South Pontotoc high schools learned how to program a device that controls automated functions on an assembly line.
About 10 miles away, a group of Pontotoc teachers studied the finer points of fluid power.
Their studies are a part of a new program at Itawamba Community College and East Mississippi Community College to teach technical skills to high school students and teachers.
It was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
The two schools are also partnering with Mississippi State University’s Center for Science, Mathematics and Technology to administer the three-year grant, which totals nearly $900,000.
“I’ve never been in a manufacturing environment before and it is interesting to know it is not just a repetitive workload,” said North Pontotoc Middle School teacher Missaha Larabee. “It takes a lot of skills I didn’t know were necessary.”
This summer, ICC is working with students and teachers from Pontotoc County, and East Mississippi Community College is partnering with the Columbus City School District.
The students from North and South Pontotoc high schools began attending after-school training sessions in high-tech manufacturing jobs during the spring semester.
This summer, they’re enrolled in a three-week program that will earn them three hours of college credit.
In addition to learning skills like using a programmable logic controller as they did Tuesday at ICC’s Belden Center, they’re visiting manufacturers in the Tupelo area.
“It is supposed to be to expose them to industry and manufacturing and to show them what goes on to spark an interest in youth getting into the manufacturing field,” said Jerry Murphree, one of the program’s instructors.
Murphree said the goal is to show the students the high-tech expertise needed for many industrial jobs.
They got to see that first-hand Tuesday, when each student sat behind the programmable logic controllers and used a computer to write programs to make lights on the machine blink in different patterns.
Such programs could be used to allow machines to complete automated processes.
“Two weeks ago, I couldn’t program my toaster,” said South Pontotoc rising senior Hunter Highfield. “You learn a lot.”
Among the industries the students are scheduled to visit are Hawkeye, General Atomics, Day Brite and Advanced Innovations East. At the completion of the summer course, the students will attend after-school training classes during the fall.
“I like engineering so I enjoyed Hawkeye because they get to get to play around with toys that involve engineering,” said North Pontotoc rising senior Kyle Moore, referring to toys like high-powered lasers.
Meanwhile, teachers and career counselors from North and South Pontotoc, as well as those from Pontotoc and from Pontotoc Ridge Vocational Center, are taking a two-week workshop to help them bring knowledge of industrial careers to their classrooms.
“We’re seeing what the kids need,” said North Pontotoc High School teacher Sheila Ryan.
Last week, while the students were at ICC’s Belden Center, the teachers were attending a lesson on the school’s Tupelo campus. They also visited many of the industries the students did in order to see how math and science skills were being used in the real world.
“The biggest thing I’m getting is I now have a better understanding of a broader range of career opportunities to share with my students,” said Whitney McGrew, who teaches at North Pontotoc Middle School.
For instance, McGrew said, perhaps she can tell students about career skills they don’t even realize they have.
“I can say, I can see you doing this every day, you would be good at fluid power,” she said.