By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
Throughout the month of June, Mississippi State University is hosting four week-long camps for Junior ROTC cadets from high schools across the state, including local students from Starkville.
The camps are the first of their kind and combine leadership training with science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. A program at MSU called LeaderSTATE partnered with the United States Army to create the camps.
“This is the fifth year that we’ve done LeaderSTATE, but this is the first year that we’ve been partnered exclusively with the Army and JROTC. It’s been going great,” said Cade Smith, the director of leadership programs at MSU. “I think this is the first time that the U.S. Army has funded this and it will be used for a national model for different higher education institutions across the U.S.”
“They’re looking at this like a pilot program. Throughout these four weeks, data is being taken,” said Sgt. Maj. Robert Bishop, senior Army instructor at Starkville High School. “Then it will go out to other schools and other school districts. Next year, you’ll probably see other universities partner with the JROTC and doing this.”
Each week, 60 cadets from high schools around the state participate in the program. When they first arrive, they are given a Myers Briggs Type Indicator test which tells them their personality type.
“They learn about their personality type and how to use that throughout their life,” said Heather Black, part of the LeaderSTATE team. “We’re hoping that after this week, they go back into their JROTC programs and they learn to work together based on what kind of personality they have, or their friend has, and how to incorporate those to make a better team.”
“We’ve been doing a lot of personality ‘check-ups,’ I guess you could say,” said Stacie Young, a cadet from Starkville High School. “That way, we know ourselves and our teammates, and we can work together and be able to lead others to accomplish a task.”
The cadets also got a unique look at a campus experience, particularly the engineering department.
“The first part of the week is relationship work — the relationships on their team; helping them understand team work; helping them understand how to navigate a university. We want them to see themselves as a college student, either here or at a two-year institution so that when they graduate high school, they have post-graduate plans,” Smith said. “Then, we introduce the technology and engineering components and make it relevant by seeing different researchers at the university as well as industry. We see people using those skills in a professional setting.”
“Mississippi State put on a great tour for the kids. They got a chance to go to a lot of the engineering programs here, find out about all the scholarships and all the things that Mississippi State has to offer,” said Bishop. “So when they leave here, they will have a very good knowledge of the things that the campus life that Mississippi State has to offer and how to go about it when they get back to their schools, if this is what they want to do.”
Throughout the week, the cadets were split up into teams and were challenged to work together to complete tasks like building bottle rockets and navigating campus for a scavenger hunt. These challenges helped them put the engineering concepts they learned into action.
“Our mission is to make these kids better citizens,” Bishop said. “It’s not just about marching, it’s about educating our students and giving them choices. Now, they know about engineering, something they’ve probably never had the opportunity to do before.”
Last week, the camp hosted JROTC programs from Jackson. Later this month, they will host schools from the Delta and Louisiana.
“It’s taught me so much about leadership and how you should be a leader,” said Cadet Louis Armstrong. “I plan on coming to Mississippi State for engineering, so this was a great help to me.”