Tonie Tarrio, a senior at Callaway High School, was excited to develop his leadership skills with the lessons from West Point cadets.

Cadets from West Point, the United States Military Academy, collaborated with Jackson State University to educate the “best of the best” in Mississippi’s high school Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs on Friday.

The conference’s activities targeted multiple disciplines, including writing essays on ethics, introducing students to computer coding and even virtual robotics training, which the students were particularly excited about.

“Robotics was the best because I love working with engineering type of stuff,” said Dequante Holmes, a senior at Lanier High School in Jackson. “Learning about robots, learning how they function, how they can help with everyday life, I really like [doing] that.”

The daylong conference, now in its third year, gears its activities and learning sessions towards developing high school juniors and seniors in three areas: ethics, diversity and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

West Point chose Jackson as one of 12 cities around the country for its educational forums. Two hundred fifty students from around the state were selected to attend the conference.

Gov. Phil Bryant, addressing the need to bolster the STEM workforce in the state, spoke to the students before they dispersed into activities.

“We need all the science and math and engineering we can get,” Bryant said. “Some of you are naturally drawn to that; I was not, so I ended up being governor.

“The future is in your hands,” he added.

Gov. Phil Bryant spoke to JROTC students from around the state at Jackson State University on Friday.

Bryant touted the vast military presence in the state, mentioning Camp Shelby, Keesler Air Force Base and the Pascagoula Naval Station.

“We’re trying to prepare for a new era where everything is related around math, engineering and science,” said Tonie Tarrio, a senior at Callaway High School in Jackson. “Everything is technical now. You’ve got to have those skills, you can’t just go and think I can play sports or go low on academics.”

Alexus Smith, Holmes’ classmate and fellow JROTC member, said it was important for her to learn how to program to prepare for the future.

“Coding in today’s time is more needed,” she said. “You have computers, robotics and cell phones in particular. You need someone who can code those. [These lessons] help people with aspirations, like me, of coding later in life.”

“This event serves as a pivot point for increasing STEM competency and building the character of top-level STEM leaders in Mississippi,” said Dr. Shonda Allen, associate director of JSU’s Center for Computational Chemistry. “We are thrilled that West Point again has chosen Jackson as one of only 12 major cities in the U.S. for the workshop.”

Thirty of the 250 student participants will be invited back to JSU over the summer to continue their STEM development.

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Alex Rozier, from New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data and environment reporter. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Open Secrets, and on In 2019, Alex was a grantee through the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines program, which supported his coverage around the impact of climate change on Mississippi fisheries.