Mississippi students get leg up

Jane Nicholes
October 2018

Mississippi Air Force JROTC students are likely to be directly exposed to aerospace
and aviation, especially if they are part of one of the 15 Air Force units. With major
corporations plus military bases throughout the state, AFJROTC is a logical place to
explore the possibilities.

Students may fly with hurricane hunters from Keesler Air Force base, visit NASA’s
Infinity Science Center to see space hardware like the Apollo 19 Saturn V S-IC stage,
fly with the Civil Air Patrol or the Experimental Aircraft Association, or compete for a
scholarship to attend a one-week program at the National Flight Academy at Naval
Air Station Pensacola, Fla.

By the time they graduate from high school, they’ll have a good knowledge of the
opportunities available both in the military and in the private sector, said retired Air
Force Maj. Ed Butler, bureau chief for the Mississippi JROTC program.  

“We’re kind of like the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. We’re just trying to teach
them good values, to be a good citizen and have respect for our flag and what the
United States stands for,” he said. “We also focus on college and career readiness.”

At Hinds Community College, a student can get an associate degree learning to
operate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) or coordinating their systems. At
Mississippi State University, the Raspet Flight Research Laboratory has five types of
aircraft and a helicopter of its own.

As the Mississippi Development Authority website notes, “Mississippians now produce
everything from helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles to composite jet engine

Stennis Space Center (SSC) offers a summer Astro Camp for children as young as
second grade, but public schools don’t offer specific education programs in
aerospace and aviation.

“I couldn’t identify a single dedicated program to that point,” said Bill McGrew, division
director of the Career Technical Education program for the Mississippi Department of

However, the state promotes STEM education in high schools and community
colleges. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. And
the Mississippi State Board of Education in May awarded $886,000 in grants to
establish K-8 STEM programs in a dozen school districts.

STEM is also part of the Career Technical Education (CTE) program, McGrew said.
The state has some 95 CTE Centers located statewide, some in high schools and
others located centrally within school districts, to which students come during part of
the school day for course work in everything from agriculture to hair-styling.

There’s a one-year STEM course in middle school and a two-year course in high
school. Topics include computer design and programming, GIS, information systems,
engineering and electronics, McGrew said.

CTE course offerings depend directly on the needs and desires of the school district
and surrounding communities. For example, Nissan and McGrew’s department have
worked together for several years to offer robotics in the Jackson and Canton areas,
McGrew said. Students learn to operate the same equipment, including robots, they
would use at the Nissan Canton automotive assembly plant.

“We base our programs on the local economic need,” McGrew said. “If a new industry
comes into town we start looking into what do they need.”

Of the state’s 15 community colleges, nearly half offer some aviation-related courses.
Northwest Mississippi Community College offers aviation technology. Hinds
Community College offers the drone program, aviation maintenance technology and
avionics technology. Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College offers customized
training for aviation electronics technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace
Systems. Airframe and power plant programs are also available at Northwest and

East Mississippi Community College and Holmes Community College also have
aviation focused training.

Mississippi State is the premier research and education university in the state, with
the only aerospace engineering degree and the flight research lab. It also houses
the Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems, which also includes a department
specializing in aerospace materials.

More recently, the FAA designated Mississippi State as an Unmanned Aerial Systems
Center of Excellence. MSU is considered the leader of a 13-university coalition that
also includes the University of Alabama in Huntsville, University of Alaska-Fairbanks,
Drexel, Embry-Riddle, University of Kansas, Kansas State, Montana State, New
Mexico State, North Carolina State, University of North Dakota, Oregon State and
Wichita State.

The universities are charged with “helping the FAA research methods to integrate
UAS into the national airspace,” according to the website.

Engineering degrees in various subjects are also offered at the University of
Mississippi, Jackson State and the University of Southern Mississippi. The Center for
Manufacturing Excellence at the University of Mississippi receives advice from GE
Aviation executives among other corporations.

Southern Miss is home to the Mississippi Polymer Institute, which studies composites,
polymers, plastics and advanced materials. Its partners have included GE Aviation,
Boeing, Cytec Resins, Northrop Grumman, ATK and SELEX Galileo.

Delta State University in Cleveland offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in
aviation through its Department of Commercial Aviation in the College of Business of

Job training
Community colleges and WIN Job Centers work with industries statewide to assess
applicants and provide pre-employment training and customized workforce training,
according to Glenn McCullough Jr., executive director of the Mississippi Development

The Mississippi Works Fund was established in 2016, providing $50 million over the
next 10 years to community colleges for workforce training. Seventy-five percent of
the money is for new job creation and 25 percent for existing workforce training and

One company using the Works Fund has been Northrop Grumman, which
manufactures rotary and fixed-wing autonomous systems as well as manned
platforms. The company is using MGCCC to train 60 new workers for sub-assembly
work on the F-35 program at its Unmanned Systems Facility in Jackson County,
according to McCullough.

The state has partnered with the commercial spaceflight company SpaceX and the
Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission to locate rocket engine testing
operations at SSC. Another partnership is with Rolls-Royce, which operates the
Outdoor Jet Engine Test Facility, also located at SSC.

A significant amount of information on aerospace and aviation is available at www.
mississippi.org. To learn more, from the home page see click on “workforce and
training,” and “target industries,” before proceeding to “aerospace.”

The Mississippi Development Authority offers incentives to employers locating or
expanding in the state, including reimbursement for job training and property tax

The state’s Advantage Jobs Program rebates a percentage of payroll in Mississippi
to qualified aerospace manufacturers for up to 10 years. Eligible jobs must pay as
much or more than the average annual wage of the state or county in which the
company locates.


NASA plays major role in sparking interest in science
Ed Butler, who heads up Mississippi’s JROTC program, was quite pleased when he
learned that the Gulf Coast Aerospace Corridor would focus on aerospace and
aviation education in its October issue.

He talked at length about the visit some students would make to NASA’s Stennis
Space Center (SSC), where, among other things, they would get to see a rocket
engine test. The test was rescheduled for another day due to technical issues, but
the students still got a taste of an aerospace career.

While Mississippi may not have an overwhelming number of schools with aviation-
specific programs, there are associated education and training pathways that can
result in jobs in the aerospace industry.

Science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, is the term used to describe
studies that include physics, math, design and technology, information and
communications technology, computer science and more. It’s considered particularly
important for a changing world where technology is changing so rapidly. The studies
can lead to work in electrical engineering, computer programming and in many
cases, the aerospace industry.

As an example, students who are interested in computer science, software
development or robotics could eventually find themselves working in aerospace
because of the crucial role of computers in flight and growth in the use of unmanned
aerial systems.

Another related field is in advanced materials science. Commercial and military
aircraft and spacecraft manufactures are highly interested in materials with
characteristics not found in traditional materials. Mississippi has one of the best-
known programs in advanced materials at the University of Southern Mississippi in

When Mississippi educators needed a curriculum to prepare young students for
fields in the aerospace and other industries, it turned to NASA employees at SSC.

One of 10 NASA field centers, SSC has been the premier rocket engine testing
complex for five decades, delivering Apollo, the space shuttles and, eventually, the
next generation of rocket engines for deep space missions.

SSC has been engaged in promoting science, technology, engineering and
mathematics activities with students for over 20 years. Field trips, like the one taken
by Butler’s students, add another dimension to pique the interest of the next
generation of aerospace workers.

Adding to the SSC effort is the important hands-on learning center at Infinity Science
Center, south of SSC.

The facility is designed to make learning fun and pique interest in a range of
scientific fields.

A large number of schools in Mississippi, such as Gulfport High School, may not have
aviation-specific studies, but their emphasis on STEM is an important part of the mix.
David Tortorano
Underwritten in part by: