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8/20/13 - Research and Curriculum Unit develops new career pathway for energy study

By creating a new energy curriculum for high school students, the Research and Curriculum Unit at Mississippi State is developing yet another collaboration between education and industry.

The latest career pathway constitutes the 17th developed by the university resource center, in partnership with the Mississippi Department of Education and Mississippi Energy Workforce Consortium.

The curriculum was pilot tested in three public school districts during the 2012-13 academic year -- Lamar and Lawrence counties and Pascagoula, said LeAnn Miller, RCU instructional design specialist.

Mike Mulvihill, bureau director for the MDE's Office of Career and Technical Education, said RCU's role in writing the curriculum was just one facet of the long-term partnership between the state department and the university research unit.

"RCU does a lot of the research as to what the national trends are and the best practices for teaching students, as well as working with industries to write the curriculum," Mulvihill said. "RCU also does the professional development for our teachers to make sure they're properly trained to teach the students. They help in the assessment, too.

"They have the expertise and opportunity to do that type of research and find the trends and best practices. They get us the best coursework that we can get," he continued.

Other Mississippi school districts considering adoption of the energy curriculum during the 2013-14 school year include Claiborne, DeSoto and Jefferson counties, as well as Madison, Mulvihill said.

Miller said the pilot schools, as well as the districts planning to incorporate the energy curriculum, are near energy-focused industries. Those same businesses played key roles in developing the curriculum.

"We looked at what Mississippi energy industries asked for and took what they had researched because they're going to be the ones who employ our students," Miller explained.

Entergy, Mississippi Power, Gulf Power, Strategic Biomass Solutions, and Alstom are among the participants that helped develop the curriculum. Miller said Southern Power, the Southern Company's electric generation company, as well as the National Center for Construction Education and Research also provided valuable input.

"Mississippi has all these resources in energy -- nuclear, oil, natural gas, biomass," Miller said. "So many people helped develop this energy curriculum, and we want to spread the word that jobs are out there and they're growing.

"Mississippi is a key state positioned to meet this global need."

The first year of the high school curriculum focuses on the basics of energy generation, including industry regulations, major employers and traditional and emerging technologies, while the second year teaches students about alternative sources of energy, including wind, solar, nuclear and biomass.

Miller said many employees will be retiring from energy industries beginning in 2014-15.

"There's going to be a gap," she said. "We're trying to get people in high school interested in the field so they can go directly into an apprenticeship, do community college programming or go into an engineering field at a four-year institution like Mississippi State."

She said studies indicate that university-level training in energy could allow graduates to become supervisors making $85,000 a year; natural gas specialists or supervisors, transmission or distribution utility supervisors, or generation supervisors, all $75,000 annually; nuclear plant supervisors, $85,000; chemists, $54,000; or engineers, $63,000.

Miller said these jobs and their prospective annual salaries were determined with cooperation from the Center for Energy Workforce Development, a non-profit consortium of electric, natural gas and nuclear utilities and their associations. They include the Edison Electric Institute, American Gas Association, Nuclear Energy Institute and National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

More information about the energy curriculum is available at www.rcu.msstate.edu under the "Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics" tab.

Leah Barbour | University Relations

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