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New STEM school in Mississippi to boost economic growth and equity

In discussions about the highest-paying career paths and college degrees, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education is often viewed as a golden ticket. Yet access to the field isn’t equal. Minority groups — such as African American, Hispanic, and Native American individuals — are less likely to pursue STEM college degrees or professions. Women are also underrepresented.

To help combat the problem, SR1 College Preparatory and STEM Academy launched to promote equity in STEM education. The Mississippi-based institution focuses its recruitment on underrepresented minorities, instilling a love for lifelong learning while
preparing its students for emerging STEM opportunities in the state.

Introducing the Academy

The SR1 College Preparatory and STEM Academy is a public charter school that hosts children from kindergarten age to the 5th grade. As the name suggests, it has a comprehensive STEM curriculum and aims to help its students secure college places. The school was launched in partnership with the nonprofit SR1 (Scientific Research), which works with public and private organizations to offer more educational opportunities to minority groups in Mississippi.

To facilitate learning, the institution is building a 200-acre campus with learning spaces inspired by nature (proven to boost creativity and lower stress), plus a blend of indoor and outdoor learning. It also has a dedicated teaching team, with an approach that emphasizes critical thinking and intellectual curiosity over rote memorization.

Despite a strong focus on educational attainment, the SR1 Academy recognizes that a student’s future success comes down to more than just their grades, so it goes above and beyond to facilitate a holistic curriculum with lots of extracurriculars. This includes plans to carry out regular trips to destinations like the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science and STEM centers to inspire its students.

“As pioneers in STEM-focused education, SR1 CPSA is committed to leveling the playing field and empowering underrepresented minorities to excel in STEM fields,” says school founder Tamu Green.

The Rise of STEM in Mississippi

Mississippi is known by many for its eponymous river, and few people would associate it with science, engineering, or technology. Yet the state is set to be the home of numerous exciting advancements in STEM-related fields that are reshaping the economic landscape and making it a hub for future opportunities. This means Mississippi is the ideal location for a STEM-focused school.

In January 2024, state legislators approved incentives to build an EV battery factory in Marshall County. Four companies will be investing a combined $1.9 billion into the project, which aims to bring manufacturing to the US instead of relying on imports from foreign nations like China. It promises to provide 2,000 jobs to the area, with an average salary of $66,000 — offering fantastic career opportunities for those studying engineering-related subjects.

The state may also be on the cusp of building two data centers worth a total $10 billion in Madison County. A large (unnamed) company has been in talks with the Mississippi Legislature to seek approval for the project. If it goes forward, it will create 1,000 jobs, with salaries at least 125% above the average state wage. The initiative would also be the largest capital investment in Mississippi’s history.

These are just two of the most prominent examples of projects underway in Mississippi, and they both demonstrate that the STEM sector offers high-paying work. Lawmakers are also striving to bring economic development initiatives to other parts of the state to spread the wealth.

Economic Mobility and Growth

College has often been known as the great equalizer in society, promising graduates stable careers and high salaries. Recently, some have questioned this narrative due to high numbers of graduates meaning many struggle to find work in their fields, along with stifling student debt. Yet this doesn’t necessarily mean that education isn’t a driver of economic mobility anymore.

The college wage premium is an economic concept demonstrating the difference in lifetime earnings between a graduate and someone with no education beyond a high school diploma. Overall, the college wage premium is flattening, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco — but lifetime earnings are still higher for graduates, showing that college remains a sound investment. However, the subject a college student chooses has a huge impact on earning potential.

In a report by Georgetown University about the economic value of different college majors, significant discrepancies were found between subjects. Petroleum engineering graduates earned far more than their peers in other fields, with median earnings of $120,000. Other STEM fields were also at the top of the list — Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Sciences and Mathematical and Computer Sciences graduates both enjoyed average earnings above $100,000. Meanwhile, the lowest-earning category was mostly populated by non-STEM subjects, such as Early Childhood Education and Counseling Psychology. 

The analysis becomes even more complex when accounting for different ethnic backgrounds For instance, wages of black and Hispanic high school graduates have increased more quickly than college graduates in recent years (while wages increased at roughly the same rate for white individuals). This may be due to differences in subject choices.

A report about Diversity and STEM from the National Science Foundation found that 18% of the black and African American population works in STEM occupations (with the other 82% working in non-STEM occupations). Hispanics had a similar proportion, with 20% working in STEM. Meanwhile, 25% of the white workforce are in the STEM sector. There’s also discrepancies between the genders, with 29% of the male workforce yet 18% of the female workforce occupying STEM professions. 

Even more concerning is that the median wage for white people in the STEM field is almost $66k, compared to an average of $45,480 for Hispanics and $54,734 for black and African American individuals.

The SR1 College Preparatory and STEM Academy hopes to correct this discrepancy by encouraging those from underrepresented groups to pursue STEM early on in their education, empowering them to choose college degrees and professions in the field.

This is a critical driver for economic impact and societal advancement. When certain groups are insufficiently represented, it isn’t just detrimental to those groups — it also has a negative impact on society and the economy, as future talent is lost, and innovation is hindered. In contrast, education and equity have the power to boost economic growth and foster innovation.

SR1 CPSA is excited to announce that we are offering FREE school supplies and uniform vouchers to families who fully enroll. Join us in giving your children the resources they need for a successful school year!  For more information visit our website at www.sr1cpsa.org , email: [email protected] or call: 769.275.0330.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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