Mississippi may be more than 2,000 miles from Silicon Valley, but future software developers are honing their skills in the Magnolia State. I had the chance to learn about the value of computer coding during a recent visit to the Base Camp Coding Academy in Water Valley. The 12-month program readies Mississippians in their senior year of high school for well-paying software jobs. Graduates have gone on to receive job offers from CSpire and FedEx.
The business community’s enthusiasm and financial support for students at the Base Camp Coding Academy reaffirm the growing demand for advanced computer skills in the workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that computing will represent one out of every two STEM jobs in less than a decade. The field could produce 1.3 million job openings by 2022.
Wicker Focuses on Computer Science in Education Bill
Mississippi’s students should not be left behind. In fact, early coding experience could give them a competitive advantage. I have introduced the “Computer Science Career Education Act of 2017” to encourage the development of computer science programs in high school and postsecondary classrooms. The legislation would promote collaboration among educators, local business leaders, and community partners to engage students with real-world experiences and challenges. The bill would establish competitive grants for career education that trains educators and teaches students computer science skills with future professional opportunities in mind.
The Mississippi Department of Education is also working to promote these computer skills among students in kindergarten through the ninth grade. The department has already enlisted 55 districts in a Computer Science for Mississippi program and trained more than 400 teachers. Meanwhile, at the college level, events like the upcoming Tech Summit at Ole Miss are bringing together industry leaders, government officials, and educators for important conversations about how our students can positively contribute to an increasingly connected world.
Broadband Access Provides Platform for Educational Opportunities
Much has been said about the economic growth that reliable broadband can bring to a community. But it is also important to recognize the impact that high-speed Internet access can have on our schools. With broadband connectivity, local students have a platform to explore computer science fields – a career path that may have been unknown to them otherwise. Closing the service gaps in our state would open the door to careers that could change students’ lives.
I have worked to eliminate the digital divide between urban and rural areas in my role as chairman of the Senate subcommittee that oversees Internet issues. That includes introducing legislation to collect better information about the areas with the most limited coverage. I believe government funding should target our truly unserved and underserved communities.
Students interested in technology have a lot to be inspired by in our state. Mississippi has been home to a number of success stories in telehealth and precision agriculture, demonstrating how broadly technology can impact the ways we live and work. The idea that Mississippi could be the so-called “Silicon South” is a realistic possibility.