Wicker Says Mississippi Students Prove America Can Lead

May 19, 2008

Last weekend in Plains, Virginia, Mississippi high school students competed in the finals of the Team America Rocketry Challenge.  Of the 643 teams that entered this advanced aerospace competition, three teams of Mississippi students reached the finals.  Mentored by employees from Aurora Flight Sciences, an aerospace company in Columbus, these young Mississippians are entering a competitive engineering field and excelling.

This type of success is nothing new in our country.  For more than 200 years, the strength of America has largely been rooted in the ingenuity and determination of our people.  America has always been the home of innovation, hard-working laborers, and the most productive industries.  However, due to rapid growth in other parts of the world and the aging of much of our workforce, America’s role as leading innovators is no longer certain.   

A new generation of American scientists and engineers is needed to maintain our global strength and competitiveness.  Through exciting new partnerships between some Mississippi schools and private sector employers like Aurora, our young people are proving they are well positioned to become the next generation of leading innovators that will keep America competitive. 

                           WORKFORCE CHALLENGES
The aerospace and defense sectors are good examples of the challenges America faces when it comes to staying economically competitive.  According to a recent Associated Press article, these sectors are “bracing for a potential brain drain over the next decades as a generation of Cold War scientists and engineers hits retirement age and not enough qualified young Americans seek to take their place.”   

These demographic challenges, coupled with the increased number scientists and engineers coming out of growing countries like China and India, underscore the importance of strengthening educational opportunities for American students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.  

                                MISSISSIPPI CAN HELP
As it happens, the aerospace and defense sectors are growing their presence in Mississippi.  This is obviously good for our economy, but it also benefits our students, who are now being given a front-row seat to view and participate in the exciting work being performed in these fields. 

Aurora’s outreach to Columbus-area students participating in the Team America Rocketry Challenge is a great example of how the private sector can partner in helping educate our young people.  Two years ago, there were no Mississippi students participating in this contest.  Now, with the help of this private-sector mentor-student partnership, teams from the Mississippi School of Math and Science in Columbus, the Christian Home Schoolers in Starkville, and the Monroe County Advanced Learning Center are not only competing, they have made it into the competition’s finals. 

                                ACTION NEEDED NOW
There is no question that many countries around the world have increased efforts to become more competitive.  In order to remain an economic leader, it is essential that the U.S. take bold steps to meet this challenge.  Time after time, we have seen generations of young Americans rise to the challenges of their time.  As long as we provide the current generation of young Americans with the tools to learn, they can meet this challenge by keeping America a strong and competitive worldwide leader.  As we are already seeing in Mississippi, our young people are up to the test.