Robert Thompson is interim director of the Mississippi Polymer Institute (MPI). Thompson is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a degree in polymer science and has played a guiding role in the growth of the Mississippi Polymer Institute over the past 19 years. We spoke about MPI, The Accelerator and the role of polymer science in Mississippi’s economy.
The Mississippi Polymer Institute, located within The Accelerator at the University of Southern Mississippi
How did the Mississippi Polymer Institute get started?
Thompson: MPI was established by the Mississippi legislature in 1983. Funding came in ’93, so we really started up activities in 1993 and have been going strong ever since then. Dr. Shelby Thames, who was instrumental to the polymer science program at USM, also started the Mississippi Polymer Institute.
What’s MPI’s mission?
Thompson: We’re here to help grow Mississippi’s economy using the resources and capabilities we have here at MPI, as well as those available at the school of polymers and high-performance materials at USM. We make those technical capabilities and resources available to businesses here in Mississippi to help them grow. We provide our technical expertise in polymers for businesses, as well as for startup organizations and inventors.
In layman’s terms, what is meant by polymer science, and how is it important to Mississippi as an economic development driver?
Thompson: Polymer science is the study of the development and use of polymers. You know how you can form a chain with paperclips by hooking them all together? Well, the paperclip is a basic building block of that chain. With polymers, we have what are called monomers and those are the basic unit. You can hook many of those together to form a polymer. For example, polystyrene – everybody’s familiar with polystyrene coffee cups – the monomer is styrene and polymer is polystyrene.
The thing about polymers is they’re basically everywhere around you. They’re in paint, on automobiles and housing, in clothing – cotton is a natural polymer – but you also have things like polyester spandex, Gore-Tex, which is Teflon. They in your shoe soles and automotive tires. There are also polymers in personal care products like toothpaste and makeup. You have Boeing and their Dreamliner, the 787 – it has a large bit of composite materials, which also use polymers. So polymers are everywhere you look.
What kind of technical services does MPI provide to Mississippi companies?
Thompson: When we first started out in ’93, we were largely utilizing the capabilities at the Department of Polymer Science at USM. Over the years, we’ve added capabilities. So now we utilize both the resources that MPI has internally as well as those that the polymer science research center has. We have a lot of highly scientific equipment for physical and analytical testing. It helps you identify stuff, figure out how strong something is, where it breaks, what it’s made of – those sorts of things. MPI has been in the prototyping business since around ’95 or ’96 in earnest, really. And more recently, we’ve switched over from prototyping to what everyone’s referring to now as 3D printing.
On the consulting services side, we offer personal expertise, which I think is just as important as the equipment. We offer those capabilities to help companies, whether they’re startup companies or established companies, and we also do a lot with economic development agencies. If there’s a prospect or a group that’s interested in the area, they want to know what kind of technological support they can access. For those folks who are interested in moving to Mississippi, we can help them through our consulting services.
Aside from economic development, why is polymer science and the polymer industry so important for Mississippi?
Thompson: Polymers are everywhere. They’re ubiquitous. The companies producing these polymeric materials – whether they’re making the plastic itself or a coating or composite materials – their products touch so many areas. If your product is metal, for example, you’ll need polymers to coat that metal to keep it from rusting. Polymers are important for all of the manufacturing processes. The science associated with it and the skill sets and the type of individuals who work in polymer science all contribute to the economic growth of our state.
How does MPI support innovation in our state?
Thompson: From the start, MPI has been involved, largely through prototyping, with inventors. We see inventors come in who are looking to have a prototype part produced so that they can approach investors. Or sometimes, the inventor has their part and their investors, they’re just looking for help for how to make their widget, as we like to say.
Four years ago, we moved from the Polymer Science Research Center at USM to The Accelerator in The Garden at USM. The main reason for that move was to help support startup businesses here in The Accelerator. USM has an effort underway to support the research coming out of the university and help those companies that want to be closer to the university to access that research. So we support companies here at The Accelerator, as well.
We have outreach efforts looking at bringing new industry into the state. On the existing industry side, with which MPI plays a big role, we’re helping to grow the folks that are already here. But also there’s that third effort – the organic growth portion. We’ve started playing a role with events like Startup Weekend and the New Venture Challenge. I applaud all those efforts, and I think they’re great way to help the state of Mississippi through economic development.
Does MPI have any programs to reach out to students before they get to college?
Thompson: We’re very proud to have helped establish nine high school polymer science programs in Mississippi. We started out this effort around ’97 or ’98 at Petal High School. Since that time, we’ve added eight additional high schools across the state. Those schools are Alcorn County, Madison County, Simpson County, Marion County, Hattiesburg High School, Hancock, Moss Point and Pascagoula. And, I’d like to make a plug for the program – I want to work with interested school boards across the state to expand into more schools.
I think one of the important things about this program is that students get to experience our industry through job shadowing. They have the opportunity to visit companies in their area and they see what those folks do every day. They can decide to go straight to work when they graduate high school, or go to the community or junior college to develop that additional advanced skill set, or they can go to the university and get that engineering degree or polymer science degree. I think it’s very important that we give high school and younger kids the opportunity to learn about our industry to help them set their direction in life.
Can you talk about some of your favorite success stories that you’ve seen come out of the Mississippi Polymer Institute?
Thompson: I have a lot of favorites. Most recently, on the workforce development side, I would have to say [MPI Workforce Development and Technical Leader] Ty Posey’s efforts building up the composites program with GE Aviation. GE Aviation has a production facility in Ellisville. All of their production employees come through the Mississippi Polymer Institute, as well as Jones County Junior College. There are four classes they take, which give those employees a good foundation in 1) what are high-performance composite materials, 2) what are some of the ways that you manufacture and produce these things, 3) what’s the science behind it. I’m really excited about that program and we’re proud to have GE Aviation as a partner.
MPI has been doing commercial development for several years. We started out initially working on a project with the James Rawlins’ research group at USM for a coating for Marine Corps uniforms. That was probably the start of that effort. Since that time, we’ve had a lot of successes along the way. Of course, I can’t mention a lot of those things because of confidentiality agreements.
On the physical and analytical testing side, we’ve done thousands of projects in Mississippi. But, recently, last year, we became ISO 17025 accredited. For a university lab to become accredited is very unique.
Why is that?
Thompson: When Dr. Thames helped set up MPI, his intention was that we would exist to help industry. That’s our focus. So we’re out there, every day, working with industry, visiting them, talking to them about the problems that they’re seeing. The ISO accreditation is very important to those folks because their customers are asking, “How are you having this checked?” They want to know who’s checking it and who’s checking the people that are checking it.
The ISO accreditation means a third-party coming in and, more or less, says the processes that MPI has in place, as well as the techniques that we’re using, are what they say we’re doing. Part of it is proficiency testing – our test results are compared against numerous other labs’ test results and, basically, you’re looking for all the labs get the same results. It’s a third party stamp of approval, you could say. It gives some legitimacy to the process you’re using when your laboratory’s testing is accredited.
What else would you like Mississippians to know about the Mississippi Polymer Institute?
Thompson: First and foremost, I’d like everyone to know that we’re here to help. Our whole purpose in being is to help grow Mississippi – to help further our state.
I would also encourage business folks to come out and take a look at The Accelerator and visit with [Accelerator Manager] Robbie Ingram. And I would encourage people to let us show you around the Mississippi Polymer Institute to see all of the exciting things that we’re doing here.
In order for Mississippi to meet our potential and realize a leading role in the 21st century knowledge-based economy, we believe that we must first be invested in that very potential. In other words, we must believe in our own capabilities and be willing to be our own evangelists. This can begin with something as simple as stirring the conversation.
MWB founded the Mississippi Brain Drain Commission which has worked with partners to develop the Fast Forward Mississippi initiative. This effort is dedicated to stopping the loss of intellectual capital, promoting the next-generation opportunities that exist in our state, and featuring the creativity and innovation that is endemic to our culture.
Make no mistake, creativity and innovation are embedded in the very fabric that is Mississippi. Our state is the cradle of modern American music. We’ve produced some of the most renown literary figures in American letters. Mississippians have played a leading role in the aerospace industry, media conglomerates, and software companies (just to name a few). However, it is also in our nature to be quite humble and reserved about our resources and accomplishments.
Humility is an admirable quality and certainly has its place. The landscape of 21st century economic development is not one of them. We need to be proud of our accomplishments, bullish on our future, and we need to let everyone know it. Every year we lose some of our best and brightest young people to other areas of the country. In most instances, these are young adults who are products of our public school systems, have attended state colleges or universities, and have studied to be innovators in leading-edge and emerging industries. We have invested in these young people with our tax dollars and values. Simply put, we can’t allow the intellectual capital that we’ve grown to be outsourced.
Yet in many instances, we have no one to blame for this outmigration but ourselves. If we’re not willing to tout our own accomplishments and be confident in our future, why should we expect those with the most potential to remain? This is unacceptable. That’s what Fast Forward Mississippi is focused on changing by being a forum to feature our innovators and creators and to underscore the fact that you can go farther, faster in Mississippi.
The first and often most important step in efforts such as this is starting the conversation – and starting the conversation organically. That’s why Fast Forward has made the call for Innovation Ambassadors. We want to leverage the reach of our social media networks to provide the opportunity to have the conversation we need to have. We’re asking all those who believe in our capabilities of innovation, those who believe in Mississippi’s creative spirit and those who understand that leading the 21st century isn’t just a pipe dream but can be a reality – we’re asking you to show your belief by adding a Fast Forward badge to your personal social media profile picture. You’ll be asked, “What’s that symbol on your pic?” That’s your chance to say,
It means that in Mississippi, we understand what it takes to succeed in the new economy. We don’t focus on investing in businesses or organizations. We don’t focus strictly on industry clusters or market segments. Everything we do in Mississippi is concentrated on investing in talent, innovation, and creativity. We’re doing this and the result is industry, arts, and entrepreneurs that will lead in the 21st century… right here in Mississippi. Watch us go farther, faster.
If you believe we can and should lead, if you believe we have the potential and the people, if you believe in our capacity for creativity and tenacity, then we ask you to be an Innovation Ambassador. If you’re unwilling to accept what some call the inevitability that we’re doomed to fight it out for 49th place, and if you hold the determination to control our own future, then we’re asking you to add the Fast Forward badge to your profile and start telling everyone about the bright future that is the state of Mississippi.
Mississippi has never hosted a TEDx event before. As of 2014, that’s all about to change. MWB is among a small group of organizations and individuals that have worked to make TEDxJackson a reality.
With our application granted this month, the stage is set for TEDxJackson to happen November 6th in the Fondren neighborhood.
The spirit of TED is all about “ideas worth spreading.” TEDxJackson will remain true to that mission. The theme for this event is Fertile Ground, a reference to the great opportunity that exists in Mississippi. The committee is currently working to recruit a diverse range of speakers both from inside and outside the state. Talks will focus on ideas relevant to the global TED community, but subjects will center on issues that connect with the needs and interests of Mississippi – health, education, creativity, and the economy.
A website for the event is currently under construction, and information about attendance applications and tickets will be available soon. Anyone interested can, in the meantime, connect with TEDxJackson through social media platforms, listed below.
Organizing committee members include our agency, C Spire, Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, Innovate Mississippi, with additional participation from the Jackson Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and the Mississippi Development Authority.
Jackson Attorney David Pharr has taken the position as lead organizer of the event. You can read a great interview David gave about plans for the event.
Media literacy makes for smart kids at Operation Shoestring
There’s no doubt that Star Pool’s children are growing more media savvy by the day. And not just the two grade school-age boys she has at home who already do homework on the computer and have assignments requiring a good deal of Internet-based research.
As Assistant Coordinator of Project Rise at Operation Shoestring, Pool has many other bright students that she helps guide in the ways of interactive media.
“In today’s society, everything is basically focused on media. Homework, watching TV, everything,” Pool says, adding that when kids don’t know their way around the increasingly mesmerizing media landscape, “it’s kind of numbing. I just think it numbs some of their senses.”
Yes, the vast array of media technology now available can seem mind-boggling, to say the least. And it appears that a large number of educators across the country would agree.
In fact, one recent survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts of secondary-school teachers found that 87% feel that “these technologies are creating an ‘easily distracted generation with short attention spans’ and 64% say today’s digital technologies ‘do more to distract students than to help them academically.’”
Okay, aside from being a major distraction for a whole generation, media does have its good side. Media literacy is increasingly important because technology offers kids such a wide world of benefits. As Pool notes, “It helps with personal life. It helps with finance. It helps with reading comprehension. It helps with math skills.” In short, Pool says, “It helps with a lot of the basic tools that they need to become successful children, teens to adults.”
Pool and other teachers in Operation Shoestring’s afterschool and summer programs for younger students aim to “enhance some of the things that they already know” and to “help them get the basics, the foundation, the skills that they need… once they leave elementary.”
In addition to providing mentorship, academic enrichment, and media literacy training to kids K-12, the non-profit organization strives to be a resource for the parents of children served, too. “We inform parents on what they need as well, through different workshops that we have,” notes Pool. Becoming tech-savvy themselves “allows parents to go on and look at the children’s grades, to go on and see what the homework assignments are” and just stay better in tune with what’s going on in their kids’ lives.
And, at the end of the day, ensuring media literacy for Jackson-area youth fits surprisingly well into the overall mission of an organization aimed at teaching children and inspiring families. Media skills training, as Pool puts it, accomplishes both.
“We put the child at the center of everything that we do. And once the child has gotten it, we know that they’re making it better for the families, which then extends out into the community.” And that, says Pool, “helps everyone rise.”
Mitchel Resnick, PhD, is a LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research and director of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT Media Lab. His research group developed the “programmable brick” technology that inspired LEGO MindStorms robotics kits. More recently, the group developed Scratch, a popular programming environment for kids. Dr. Resnick received the 2011 McGraw Prize in Education and was listed by Fast Company as one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business.
We spoke about the importance of creative learning, effective strategies for digital literacy, and the impact of initiatives to introduce computer science into more classrooms.
Dr. Mitchel Resnick. Photo by Joi Ito.
What is the Lifelong Kindergarten Group?
RESNICK: My research group, the Lifelong Kindergarten Group, develops new technologies and new activities to engage people in creative learning experiences. So we help people learn through designing, creating and expressing themselves.
We call the group Lifelong Kindergarten because we’re inspired by the way children learn in kindergarten. In the classic kindergarten, children are constantly designing and creating things in collaboration with one another. They build towers with wooden blocks and make pictures with finger paints—and we think they learn a lot in the process.
What we want to do with our new technology and activities is extend that kindergarten approach to learning, to learners of all ages. So everybody can continue to learn in a kindergarten style, but to learn more advanced and sophisticated ideas over time.
I understand there’s a long history at MIT of using computers as a tool for education.
RESNICK: It goes all the way back to the 1960s with Seymour Papert, who started working on the Logo programming language. It was a way for kids to be able to write computer programs to control things. Now, at the time, most people thought it was crazy because computers cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. But Seymour recognized that computers were going to become less expensive and would proliferate throughout the world. So he saw there was an opportunity to use computers as tools for young people and that young people would have access to that technology. He knew that the best experiences would result from not just using computers to deliver information, but letting kids take control of the technology so they could create things.
Seymour would say it’s important that you don’t want the computer programming the child; you want the child programming the computer. You want the child to be in control. So Seymour started these ideas all the way back in the 1960s. His ideas then started to get out into the world when personal computers became available in the late 1970s into the 1980s. The Logo programming language became one of the most popular ways children were using personal computers in schools in the 1980s.
I was deeply influenced by Seymour. He was my most important mentor, and I continue to be inspired by his ideas about children learning by designing and creating things. Our work on LEGO Mindstorms and Scratch were deeply inspired by the ideas from Seymour Papert.
Why is it important to provide kids with opportunities for creative learning?
RESNICK: The process of making things in the world—creating things; it provides us with the opportunity to take the ideas that we have in our mind and to represent them out in the world. Once we do that, it sparks new ideas. So there’s this constant back and forth between having new ideas in your mind, creating things in the world, and that process sparking new ideas in the mind which lets you create new things. So it’s this constant spiral of creating and generating new ideas.
We live in a world that is changing more rapidly than ever before. Things that you learn today could be obsolete tomorrow. But one thing is for sure: People will confront unexpected situations and unexpected challenges in the future. So what’s going to be most important is for kids to be able to come up with new and innovative solutions to the new challenges that arise. That’s why it’s so important to develop as a creative thinker. Just knowing a fixed set of facts and skills is not enough. The ability to think and act creatively will be the most important ingredient for success in the future.
You’ve spoken about “learning to code” versus “coding to learn.” What’s the difference?
RESNICK: Many people are starting to get interested in learning to code, or learning to program computers. One reason a lot of people are interested is because it provides opportunities for jobs and careers because there’s a growing need for professional programmers and computer scientists. So that’s one reason for learning to code—there really is a need and there are economic opportunities.
But I think there’s a much bigger opportunity. I often make the analogy to learning to write: Some people who are learning to write will become professional journalists or novelists, however most people aren’t going to make a living just through their writing. But we still want everyone to learn to write, because once you learn to write, it lets you organize your thinking, and it helps you express your ideas in new ways. I see it as being the same with coding. Although coding does provide some economic opportunities for jobs and careers, I think the most important reason for learning to code is it lets you organize your ideas and express your ideas.
Coding lets you learn many other things. So that’s why I think what’s most important is not just learning to code, but coding to learn. As you’re learning to code, you’re learning many other things.
What kinds of skills does coding teach?
RESNICK: You learn how to organize your ideas. That is, you take complex ideas and break them down into simpler parts: How to identify problems and then “debug” the problems. How to take the ideas of others and reformulate those ideas to meet your needs. Those are all common things that people do when they’re coding. But those are also common things you do in all types of problem-solving activities and design activities.
Even if you’re doing something that has nothing to do with coding—if you’re organizing a birthday party for a friend or developing a new marketing plan for your company—you use some of those same ideas. So those approaches, which you can learn through coding, can then be applied to all different kinds of activities both in your personal life and your work life.
Should every child learn to code? Should coding be a school subject like algebra or chemistry?
RESNICK: I do think every child should learn to code, and I would approach it similarly to writing—the same way we teach children to write and then let them use their writing in all other courses. You learn to write and then use your writing in writing book reports and writing science reports—you use it in all other subjects. And I think similarly, it would be great for all kids to code and then use that knowledge in many other classes.
Events like Hour of Code have raised the visibility of coding and given people an opportunity to get some sense of what coding is all about. But it only will be meaningful if there’s a follow-up and follow-through. If people take that initial spark and turn an hour of code into a day of code or a week of code or a month of code where they continue to explore the possibilities of coding.
So it’s the same thing. If you just spend an hour learning to write, it wouldn’t be so useful. On the other hand, if that sparks your imagination and then you continue to do more things with it, then it becomes meaningful.
How is Scratch changing the way people think about computer programming?
RESNICK: We emphasize that Scratch is a way to express yourself creatively, to express your ideas. It’s also a social activity: You can share your projects with others and learn from what others are doing. Many other organizations that are trying to help people learn to code don’t focus on those ideas. They often are just focused on students learning the concepts of computer science or learning how to solve puzzles with programming.
We take a different approach with Scratch. We see Scratch as an opportunity to express yourself creatively and to work collaboratively. I think it’s really important to have that as a core underpinning for what coding is about. Our ultimate goals with Scratch are to help young people think creatively, reason systematically and work collaboratively. We think those skills are incredibly important in today’s society.
In Mississippi, we have some big challenges relating to education and poverty. Can computer science be a game-changer for us?
RESNICK: I think it’s always dangerous to assume that there’s any one thing that’s going to make a big cultural change. But it could be one element.
Before you can think about changing living standards, you need to change learning standards. I think computer science provides new opportunities to help people become better learners. I think the thing that’s going to guarantee success in the future is people developing as creative thinkers and creative learners. Doing creative work with technology through learning to code is one pathway to that. It’s not the only pathway. But I think what’s probably the most important thing is having young people grow up with opportunities to think and act creatively. That’s the key.
Would you say that computer science can engage students that may otherwise be not that interested in school?
RESNICK: I do think it’s incredibly important to build on young people’s interest. People are going to be most interested in learning when they’re working on things that they really care about. The computer, if it’s used the right way, has the opportunity to engage kids in doing things that they really care about. But I want to add that doesn’t happen automatically. The computer can also be used in a way that kids won’t be interested in.
So it’s not just about using the computer—it’s the way in which it’s used.
There aren’t very many credentialed computer science teachers out there. Are credentials necessary for teaching computer science to young people?
RESNICK: I agree with you that there’s a challenge. Many teachers don’t have much background in this area. I think further into the future, we’ll get more teachers over time with more expertise. But, for now, I think there are great resources for teachers to learn enough to help young people get started with coding and using computers in creative ways.
I would also encourage schools to support teachers in learning new things so that they can help support these young people—and also hiring new teachers who can bring new expertise into the schools. This isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s a long-term process.
How should K-12 schools approach the teaching of computer science?
RESNICK: We should make sure all subjects are taught in a way where kids get a chance to learn through creative expression. And not just computer programming. In a science class or physics class or biology class, teachers should allow students to have creative learning experiences.
We should rethink all school subjects so there are opportunities for children to learn by designing, creating, experimenting and exploring. That’s also true when we use computers. We should use computers to design, create, experiment and explore. But we should apply those ideas to all classes and all media.
So you’re saying more hands-on learning?
RESNICK: Well, it depends on what you mean by hands-on. I would emphasize learning by creating and experimenting. If you put your hands on something, and you’re just following the instructions to build a model, then that’s not a very good activity even though your hands are involved. What’s important is to give kids the opportunity to create things and experiment with things, to use their imaginations and to think creatively.
What are your thoughts about getting more women and minority students involved in computer science?
RESNICK: I think that’s linked to what we talked about earlier with supporting people and building on their own interests. Often, in all school subjects, including particularly computer science, you’re taught in one way which might be appealing to some people but not others. We need to make sure we provide multiple pathways into activities.
For example, when we developed Scratch, we made sure that people can use Scratch to do all types of different things. You can make a game, you can make a story, you can make an animation, you can compose music. That’s because different kids have different interests. If we only had computer programming for making games, that would be appealing for some kids and not for others. We wanted to be sure to provide multiple pathways so that kids from all backgrounds and all interests are able to follow their interests and become creative learners.
Tim Mask, Vice President of Brand Planning & Development at MWB, has published an article at his blog discussing some of the special projects MWB staff are spearheading with support from the agency. These projects revolve around promoting innovation and creativity as economic drivers for Mississippi.
Creative Directors Randy Lynn and Marc Leffler are leading efforts advocating the adoption of digital skill instruction (coding) within our primary education system, and utilizing advertising/graphic arts as a structured program for career planning with at-risk youth. Tim Mask is the founder and current director of the Mississippi Brain Drain Commission, focusing on keeping Mississippi’s intellectual capital in Mississippi.
Check out the article to learn more about how and why an ad agency would be investing in Mississippi’s economic development and enhanced quality of life.
Interested to know what business leaders, policy makers, and other experts think about innovation and creativity in Mississippi’s economy? Do you follow concerns such as energy, health care, education and public health? Throughout 2014, Maris, West & Baker is sponsoring a series of Twitter forums focusing on various topics focused on important aspects of the 21st century economy. Each forum will feature a guest expert and Mississippi organization that’s making innovative strides in various areas.
We understand the importance that innovation and creativity play in creating an expanding and thriving economy. As 2014 has been proclaimed the Year of the Creative Economy, we want to emphasize how important creativity and creative thinking will be beyond what is traditionally thought of as “creative” jobs. Mississippi is rich in art and architecture, music, writing, and fine art compositions of all sorts. We are equally as creative in our approach to innovating business and industry.
Examples abound. Recent ones. Dr. Hannah Gay thinks outside the box at University of Mississippi Medical Center and implements an HIV treatment regimen that will likely one day prove to save millions of lives. Academics in Oxford have an idea for a software product that literally revolutionizes the mortgage origination business: Thus is born FNC, one of the fastest growing private companies in America. Also on that list is Bomgar, an IT support technology that is the brainchild of a few college students and which has grown to be a model of the digital economy. This creative innovation extends to large corporations, as well. Mississippi’s energy and aerospace clusters are second to none. As Governor Phil Bryant often says, “Man may walk on Mars, but he’ll go through Mississippi to do it.” Virtually every commercial airplane operational in the world today contains a component that was either produced or tested at Mississippi facilities.
How do we ensure that creativity and innovation drive our economy even farther, faster? How does Mississippi effectively position ourselves to be a leader in the 21st Century knowledge economy? As we celebrate 2014 as the Year of the Creative Economy in Mississippi, we believe that we must take a creative look at how we are preparing our youth to win in the world of tomorrow.
Just prior to 2014 being declared the Year of the Creative Economy, the month of November, 2013 was proclaimed as “Mississippi Innovation Month.” A series of events throughout the month highlighted the creative and innovative things happening in Mississippi’s public and private sectors. As one event for the month, MWB teamed with the Mississippi Department of Education and Innovate Mississippi to host a series of coding workshops at schools across the state. Through a partnership with Highland Elementary School in Ridgeland and Ridgeland-based IT company Venture Technologies, one of the workshops focused on training educators in how to teach coding to elementary students. We believe that in order for Mississippi to lead in the new economy, we must ready a workforce familiar with the digital skills that will likely dominate it. Hence, our commitment to the initiative.
Through their participation in a national contest sponsored by Code.org, Highland Elementary was actually awarded $10,000 and spent the week of December 9th participating in an “Hour of Code” initiative. (See story here). The purpose is ultimately to draw attention to the kinds of digital skills education that will ensure Mississippi maintains a highly competitive workforce well into the future.
The simple fact is that innovation, education and creativity cannot be separated. The most creative among us are the most influential innovators, and vice versa. A creative solution to 21st century workforce and economic development likely means incorporating things like coding into our educational system.
We should all be proud that Mississippi is taking a leading and visible role in this effort. For more information on how you can get involved with Mississippi’s Creative Digital Skills Education initiative, please contact us.
A few years ago, a study was commissioned to explore the existing and potential economic impact of the “Creative Economy” in Mississippi. The study uncovered that over 60,000 jobs in Mississippi, and millions of dollars in tourism revenue, are directly related to “creative” industry jobs. This set Mississippi along a path of thinking about the impact of “creativity” and the creative economy differently compared to years past. We have realized that in addition to being a valuable cultural aspect, creativity is actually an economic driver.
Our investment in the creative economy has evolved to the point that Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant has declared 2014 to be the Year of the Creative Economy. As a company that operates as part of the creative environment, we are excited about the events and celebrations planned throughout the year. We would also like to add that creativity isn’t just limited to organizations tied to the arts. A creative atmosphere is conducive to innovative problem solving, entrepreneurship, and technological advancement.
Silicon Valley wouldn’t have grown into the world’s innovation incubator had creativity not existed alongside technical know-how. Pittsburgh couldn’t have shed its rust-belt shackles to become of hub of advanced manufacturing and bioscience were it not for visionary creative leadership. As much is true for the robust economy of Texas, mixing rich creative culture with industry to produce an excellent environment for quality of life.
So it is that so much creativity exists within businesses and organizations in Mississippi. Our entrepreneurial environment has been ranked among the best in the nation. Our health care sector continues to produce world-changing results. Innovative energy projects have vaulted our state to the forefront of a revitalized energy sector. And as Governor Bryant has mentioned before, man might walk on Mars, but he’ll have to go through Mississippi to do it. Our state is a leader in aerospace component development and production with one of the most robust clusters in the industry today.
As the Year of the Creative Economy is upon us, it is time that we stop apologizing for where we are from and what we have to offer. We are no longer a backwater. The days for playing catchup are over. The time for us to lead is now. All Mississippians should be proud of our contributions to creativity and what lies ahead. Hold your heads high. Learn about our creative achievements, the impact that creativity and innovation has for our economy and the nation as a whole. Mississippi is a creative place, and that creativity will drive us into being a leader in the 21st century economy.
Show your pride. Join the celebration of our Creative Economy #YoCE:
Today the Mississippi Brain Drain Commission (MSBD), an initiative founded through Maris, West & Baker Advertising (MWB), announced a partnership with Mississippi Public Broadcasting (MPB) to jointly develop a new interactive television series. The series, titled Fast Forward, is designed to help stem the loss of intellectual capital in Mississippi. This announcement is made as part of Mississippi Innovation Month.
“It is an aberration that Mississippi is a net exporter of college graduates who have a bachelors-or-better degree,” said Tim Mask, Vice President with Maris, West & Baker and founder of the Brain Drain Initiative. “It is our goal to help young Mississippians realize they can have creative jobs within leading-edge innovative fields and in fact rise farther, faster by staying in our state.”
Fast Forward will highlight the career paths of young professionals in Mississippi and detail how Mississippi provides an ideal environment for going farther, faster, in innovative & creative fields. The series will balance features of leading edge occupations with profiles of Mississippi’s creative places, lifestyle/cultural vignettes, and entertainment venues. Media personality Marshall Ramsey is slotted to host Fast Forward once production begins.