Toyota endowment expands course offerings

news_toyota_greenBy Chris Kieffer

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Students in Lee, Pontotoc and Union Counties will have a chance this fall to learn how to fly a plane, program industrial robots or dig into health care careers.

The Toyota Wellspring Education Fund will offer three new dual-enrollment courses next school year designed to prepare students for in-demand professions. They are open to juniors and seniors at the 14 public high schools in those three counties.

“It is a tremendous opportunity,” said Charles Garrett, a senior consultant with the CREATE Foundation, which oversees the fund. “It is more and more important that people get an education or training that will help them have a successful lifestyle.”

Courses include an introduction to aviation, a look at the fundamentals of robotics and a survey of health care careers. They will all be hybrids, with instruction offered both online and in person. Each will have space for about 15 to 20 pupils, who can sign up through their school counselors. Students who complete each course will earn three hours of college credit.

The fund was created by a $50 million endowment from Toyota to support education in the three counties that worked together to bring the auto maker to Blue Springs. It is administered by an advisory committee and designed to be an enhancement, providing opportunities to the group that individual schools would be unable to provide alone.

Twenty two students recently completed the first course funded by the endowment – a class on web app entrepreneurship taught by six faculty members from Mississippi State University. Students made their final presentations April 12 at the Toyota facility, where the class met on Saturdays throughout the semester.

“What we’ve seen is an example of what is possible to enhance educational experiences for our students and to provide tangible real-world experiences of what students might chose to do,” said CREATE President Mike Clayborne.

The aviation class will be taught by Hinds Community College’s Randy Pearcy. Students will receive five hours of actual flight instruction in a Cessna 172 aircraft – which they and an instructor will schedule at the Tupelo Airport. They also will learn about operating unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, a skill expected to be in high demand in the near future.

Itawamba Community College will offer the robotics class, where students will how to program industrial robots and use the tools of advanced manufacturing. ICC Dean of Career and Technical Instruction Tony Tice said the course could capture those who show an interest in high school robotics classes and competitions.

“Their high school instructors will teach the basics of elementary robotics, and when we get them, we want to show them what is out there in industry,” he said.

The health care course combines online classes through Northeast Community College and job shadowing days at North Mississippi Medical Center. It will cover different health care fields, the educational requirements, workplace demands and expected salaries, as well as the U.S. health care system and the forces that shape it.

Meanwhile, students who completed the web app class learned not only programming but also marketing and branding. They designed apps that helped solve school nurse shortages, supplemented school announcements, allowed teachers and students to connect, provided campus guides for freshmen and helped tally votes in student elections, among other functions.

“That was the tool we used to teach entrepreneurship,” said Rodney Pearson, professor of business information systems at MSU.

Before designing their programs, groups had to conduct market research with students and teachers at their schools, said Allison Pearson, Rodney’s wife and a professor of management at MSU.

“We really wanted to emphasize to the students whether what you produce is a web app or some physical product, it is integral you contact potential customers and get feedback,” she said.

chris.kieffer@journalinc.com