Jackson State University at Prentiss and J.R. Lynch Streets. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Mississippi College and Jackson State University (JSU) are receiving $5 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds for the creation of a public health partnership.

The joint project is one of six to receive funding from Gov. Tate Reeves’ second round of Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) aid, which totaled $15.57 million. The aid is meant to provide relief to schools and education-related groups that have been most significantly impacted by COVID-19.

Unlike in the first round of funding, Reeves awarded this money at his discretion, not through an application process. 

The public-private partnership will create a bachelor’s in public health program at both institutions and allow students to share resources, including faculty and lab and classroom space. It will also create a pipeline for students at Mississippi College to transition into the master’s and doctoral public health programs at JSU.

Alisa Mosley, provost and vice president of academic affairs at JSU, said the partnership was the brainchild of the two institutions’ presidents. 

The money will also go towards offering certificates for public health professionals. The goal is to equip those already in the workforce with a deeper knowledge of public health and more skills, said Brandi Newkirk-Turner, associate provost in the division of academic affairs and a professor of communicative disorders at JSU. 

The main goal is to improve public health in Mississippi through the education of both future and current public health workers, in addition to community members.

“We want to use the expertise at both institutions to help advance public health in Mississippi,” said Keith Elder, provost and executive vice president of Mississippi College, who also has a background in public health. “Together with the combined resources we know we can make even a more significant impact.”

READ MORE: Schools, state slowly spending federal COVID-19 money

JSU and Mississippi College received the largest award.

Reeves also awarded $3 million to the Office of Student Financial Aid to assist students who have fallen behind during the pandemic in completing courses during the summer of next year.

Jennifer Rogers, the director of student financial aid, said the extra funding is significant because state aid is not currently available to students during the summer term. 

“We appreciate Governor Reeves for recognizing the challenges faced by students over the course of the pandemic and for making this additional funding available,” she said, noting the office only recently learned about the award and has not yet established rules for the program. 

Connect Our Kids, a Virginia-based nonprofit, also received $3 million. The organization provides software to foster care professionals that helps track down extended family members who could potentially care for children in foster care. 

According to Reeves’ office, social workers at Child Protective Services will be able to use the program.

Representatives from both Connect Our Kids and Child Protective Services had not responded to requests for comment and more information by Tuesday.

Other recipients of this aid include:

  • $475,000 to CampusKnot, an online teaching platform for K-12
  • $2 million to National Board for Professional Teaching Standards to support current National Board Certified Teachers, candidates and eligible teachers to equip them with tools and training to improve instruction

Holly Spivey, education policy adviser to Reeves, said there is an additional project that has been approved, but details weren’t available at the time of publishing.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.