JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - By 2018, the U.S. is expected to have more than 1.2 million STEM jobs available, but there will not be enough qualified workers to fill those jobs. On Thursday, Chevron in Pascagoula celebrated the expansion of a program that prepares Jackson County students for careers that are in high demand.
"You have ten minutes to build a bridge," the teacher announced to the students.
At Moss Point High School, students in one class competed to see which team could build the longest span using wooden blocks, a pair of scissors and a piece of paper.
"I feel like it's going to help me learn how to draw better and maybe construct something in the future," said Moss Point High sophomore Crystal Scott.
The Introduction to Engineering Design class is part of a partnership between Chevron and the organization Project Lead the Way. Chevron launched Project Lead the Way at St. Martin High School last year and committed $500,000 to expand it. Now, the program is in 11 classrooms in all five school districts in Jackson County.
"What better way to invest in your own future and your company's future than by helping the folks that will be here tomorrow," said Chevron spokesman Alan Sudduth. "We are recognized for our educational excellence in this county, and this is another step in that journey."
Project Lead the Way is a rigorous, hands-on curriculum that helps students develop skills for careers in science, technology, engineering and math. Chevron paid for the teacher training and will provide volunteer mentors and equipment. As part of the announcement, the company donated 3D printers to every school in the program.
"I think it's awesome. This is the epicenter for STEM. In Jackson County, you have Ingalls, Chevron, these other industries, so they're making an investment in their community," said Moss Point High STEM teacher David Weigle.
"They see the need for the workforce they'll need farther down the line, and it's not just all engineers. For every engineer, I think, they said they need 10 or 11 technicians. What Project Lead the Way is doing, we're trying to gear kids up for those successful jobs," said William White, Project Lead the Way Regional Vice President.
The program is already sparking more interest in STEM jobs.
"We do a lot of brainstorming activities. I hope to be either a mechanical or design engineer when I grow up," said Moss Point High freshman Terrance Gaines.
Senior Rodney Galary wanted to be a lawyer but changed his mind after taking the engineering class.
"I put my toe in and ended up diving full fledge and haven't regretted it yet. Yes, I want to work out of Chevron when I graduate," said Rodney.
Project Lead the Way is offered at 17 schools in Mississippi. The program has served more than 600,000 students across the country.