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Mississippi State University Receives $1.49 Million from Appalachian Regional Commission’s POWER Initiative

STARKVILLE, Mississippi—Mississippi State University has received $1.49 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) to integrate virtual reality (VR) career exploration and job training into the life sciences education pipeline. workforce in Clay, Kemper, Lowndes, Noxubee and Oktibbeha counties. This award is part of a recently announced $21 million package to support 21 projects serving 211 coal-affected counties under the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER ) of the CRA. POWER targets federal resources to communities impacted by job losses in coal mining, coal-fired power plant operations and coal-related supply chain industries. Additional support for integrating virtual reality into 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 expand opportunities for people in their own community and neighboring communities,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin. “Partners like the State of Mississippi are integral to making our POWER projects happen, and I look forward to seeing how our Appalachian region continues to grow, thanks to the impact of their work.” »

As part of the project, MSU’s Research and Curriculum Unit (RCU) will partner with TRANSFRVR, an educational software company that provides immersive, hands-on virtual reality training to Fortune 500 companies, to to improve the Career and Technical Education (CTE) infrastructure in Appalachian Mississippi. Virtual reality simulations will introduce students to many career paths, including mid-skill jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.

TRANSFRVR will offer this immersive career exploration and vocational training through virtual reality 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. VR experiences will provide students with the education and training opportunities to achieve mastery, gain confidence, and earn industry-recognized credentials that will prepare them to enter the Mississippi workforce.

EMCC will host virtual reality labs at the Communiversity of Columbus and at its Scooba campus that can be used to enhance training for its students and those 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, Governor Tate Reeves and the Mississippi office of the ARC for this important project. This generous award from ARC will support our efforts to improve CTE infrastructure in our region through virtual reality,” said Betsey Smith, RCU Director and Principal Investigator (PI) of the project. “Through this project and the support of EMCC, these school districts, TRANSFRVR, GTPDD, LINK, PACCAR, and OCH, will deliver VR workforce training and career exploration to more than 10,000 young people and many others in the industry. Career exploration programs are key to getting K-12 students on the path to well-paying jobs. Integrating virtual reality into career exploration and vocational training is an innovative, safe and cost-effective approach, which offers better learning outcomes and shorter training times. »

RCU Deputy 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 Assistant Professor from MSU for Agricultural Education, Leadership and Communications OP McCubbins will serve as the project’s research. associate researcher and principal researcher, respectively.

APAC-Mississippi, Graham Roofing, International Paper, McCrary-West Construction Co., MDE, Southwire, Yokohama Rubber Co. and US Sens. Cindy Hyde-Smith and Roger Wicker offered additional support for the project.

Since launching POWER in 2015, ARC has invested nearly $316.6 million in 393 projects in 358 coal-affected counties. The nearly $73 million awarded in 2021 is expected to create/maintain over 10,383 jobs and attract nearly $527.3 million in leveraged private investment.

About the Research and Curriculum Unit (RCU)
Founded in 1965, RCU contributes to MSU’s mission as a land-grant institution to improve the lives of Mississippians with a focus on improving education. In particular, RCU benefits K-12 and higher education by developing curricula and assessments, providing training and learning opportunities for educators, researching and evaluating curricula, supporting and promoting vocational and technical education and leading educational innovations. For more information about 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 that focuses on 423 counties in the Appalachian region. ARC’s mission is to innovate, partner, and invest to build community capacity and strengthen economic growth in Appalachia.

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