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Extension partnership helps develop educational basics
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Pi Day comes around every March 14 to help emphasize the importance of math, but the Mississippi State University Extension Service works year-round to give young people the strong educational foundation that will carry them through life.
Mariah Morgan, a professor in the MSU Extension Center for Technology Outreach, recently teamed up with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority as part of its educational enrichment program.
“More than 80,000 young people participate in after-school programs in Mississippi each year,” Morgan said. “We are happy to have this opportunity to work with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and the Boys and Girls Club to provide these young people with the vision and tools they need to enter the 21st century workforce and be successful.”
Linda Coats, advisor for the undergraduate Lambda Eta Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, co-leads the Achievement, Self-Awareness, Communications, Engagement, Networking and Development Skills program -- ASCEND for short. The chapter is working this semester with the graduate student Upsilon Pi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha and the Starkville Boys and Girls Club.
“The ASCEND program is designed to allow Alpha Kappa Alpha members to work with high school students to prepare them for college life or vocational careers, while providing achievement, providing guidance and introducing students to arts and related cultural activities,” Coats said.
Through ASCEND, the sorority will provide weekly interactive sessions to Starkville students in grades eight through 11. These sessions include activities related to career exploration, college exploration, educational enrichment, team building, community service, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.
“Our goal for this project is to enhance the learning and performance skills of the students we are working with at the Boys and Girls Club,” Coats said. “As a result of their involvement with the ASCEND program, we want them to have a better idea of their future goals, a better understanding of STEM fields and a broader idea of the postsecondary opportunities available to them.”
Morgan is teaching three workshops for the Boys and Girls Club students. The classes began in February and meet once a month. Morgan is teaching basic programming of NXT robots, Scratch programming on iPads and an introduction to mechanical engineering. The technology emphasis will end with expo on science, math and related technologies.
“Extension has always been about changing the lives of Mississippians through education,” Morgan said. “For our young people to be successful in the digital economy, they will have to be able to interact with technology. The Extension Service provides exposure to technology through programming and robotics.”
Morgan explained that students learn logic and problem-solving skills while programming and working with robots.
“Research indicates that youngsters must be exposed to STEM-related subjects at a young age for them to see these subjects as viable educational pursuits and career paths,” Morgan said. “We need to prepare young people with the skills necessary to solve problems and seek out the best resources and information needed to make the best decisions.”
This educational emphasis blends perfectly with the goals of ASCEND, Coats said.
Paula Threadgill, associate director of the MSU Extension Service, said the program is a great way for the university to serve a new audience.
“Our mission is to provide meaningful opportunities for youth to work together to create sustainable community change. This is accomplished within three primary content areas or mission mandates -- citizenship, healthy living and science,” Threadgill said. “The ASCEND Program is a way to provide an opportunity for the youth at the Boys and Girls Club to prepare for their future.”