PASCAGOULA, Miss. (WLOX) - “Brain drain” is a phrase often used to describe a problem Mississippi has. The state has had the same problem for years: too many of the state’s best and brightest are leaving their home to make their mark on the world.
The Pascagoula Rotary International Club is trying to slow the brain drain in Jackson County by providing scholarships to graduates of Pascagoula and Resurrection high schools. This year they awarded $42,000 of scholarships to 44 high school seniors and college students.
Their hope is that after graduating, the students will stay in Jackson County or at least in Mississippi to make their home state better.
“The scholarship’s role is to show that we are investing in them,” said Diann Payne of the Pascagoula Rotary Club scholarship committee. “And also to show that there are people in their community that are successful and able to help them. And so, by that example, they will see a need to come back to Mississippi and help Mississippi as well.”
“It’s Mississippi’s image that is holding it back”, said Hunter Blades, one of the scholarship recipients. He said he knows dozens of people who said they will not stay in Mississippi because they have a false impression of the state they live in.
“It seems like they get a bad image in their mind, and that’s all they base it on,” Blades said.
Blades will attend Mississippi State University and hopes to return to Pascagoula to work at Chevron after graduating.
“There’s a lot of good things both here and in the state that I think are underrepresented, and if people saw it, people wouldn’t be so quick to assume what Mississippi is and how Mississippians are,” he explained.
Payne agreed on the state’s image problems. She said people from outside the state who have a bad perception of the state usually change that perception once they visit.
“We need to have a larger conversation about the state, about the image of the state. We’re proud of the state,” she said. “I think we need to start promoting what is right about the state, and there are a lot of wonderful things about Mississippi. Unfortunately, our kids are not going to hear that if they do not hear that from us.”
Rotary International has Interact Clubs at high schools to get students involved early and to see the opportunities in the communities.
They are also forming Rotaract Clubs to attract members from 22-32 years of age. They hope they can get them involved in the communities and teach them that “if we’re going to solve the problems of our state, it’s going to require Mississippians to do that, and we’re capable of doing that,” Payne said.
The Bacot-McCarty foundation provided $10,000 of the scholarship money. The rest was raised by the Pascagoula Rotary Club.