Gazebo Gazette

Teachers from across the state trekked to the Gulf Coast earlier this month to attend GenSea Blue Economy Pathways, a professional development experience sponsored by The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Center for STEM Education. The program introduced them to jobs in Mississippi’s blue economy as part of a new workforce development initiative.

Nineteen teachers spent three days on USM’s coastal campuses meeting USM scientists and engineers, along with local blue economy professionals from business and government.

Dr. Julie Cwikla, Center for STEM Education Director, noted: “Investing in teachers, building their knowledge, and diversifying their experiences always has a tremendous return on investment. Every one of these GenSea workshop teachers will take what they learned about blue economy career paths back to their 100 students in the fall. Imagine what we can do for the future workforce if we keep this cycle of learning going.”

Each day of the program aligned to specific sectors in marine-related fields. Day one, which centered around the Marine Research Center in Gulfport, focused on marine robotics and uncrewed maritime systems. Its setting at the Port of Gulfport also allowed for an introduction to logistics careers.

The second day, took place at both campuses of USM’s Gulf Coast Research Lab and USM Fleet Operations in Biloxi, covering marine science research, education, and extension careers.

The final day at Stennis Space Center covered government and military science careers, with visits to NASA, NOAA, and Navy facilities in addition to USM’s Department of Marine Science.

Each day featured a panel of experts in blue economy fields answering teachers’ questions about the education and training needed to obtain these jobs. Along the way, the teachers visited private facilities including Ocean Aero, the Mississippi Aquarium, the Biloxi Maritime & Seafood Museum, and Rocket Aerodyne to round out the experience.

Teacher feedback on the experience was overwhelmingly positive:

“This was amazing and one of the most beneficial teacher workshops I’ve ever attended. . . We have an amazing blue economy in our back yard and these local students and beyond need to know what all it offers other than just white sandy beaches.”

“My expectations were exceeded for this training. . . We enjoyed learning about and meeting professionals who expressed interest in actually helping us connect our students to jobs. We felt like VIPs the entire three days, and that was extremely rewarding.”

“Before my 3-day experience, I would have told anyone I understood what was available to future workforce in Mississippi. During and after my experience, I have discovered an exciting behind the scenes Gulfport, Biloxi, and Ocean Springs I was ignorant of. Our great State has countless opportunity for growth, and more than enough careers related to the Blue Economy that would allow our posterity to thrive. I will no longer see the Gulf Coast as ‘little Las Vegas.’”

GenSea Director of Communications & Curriculum Tara Skelton said of the event, “The teacher response to this experience has been very gratifying and in large part due to the buy-in of the entire community to the GenSea project. It’s in the best interest of the blue economy sector as a whole to have a pipeline of technically-trained students to fill these positions. These offices and industries recognize that and have been very supportive.”

GenSea: Blue Economy Pathways introduces high school students across Mississippi to the vast career opportunities in our coastal corridor. This USM workforce development collaborative effort pairs the Center for STEM Education and the School of Ocean Science and Engineering, with generous support from the Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation. To learn more, go to usm-gensea.org.