Mississippi’s JROTC STEM academy making huge impression

Published 10:07 pm Wednesday, June 21, 2023

The Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) STEM Leadership Academy, a STEM workforce development initiative affiliated with The University of Southern Mississippi’s (USM) Center for STEM Education, continues to gain traction across the country as high school cadets engage in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics exercises that will prepare them for advanced career opportunities.

Earlier this month, three separate JROTC Leadership Academies were held in Wiregrass, Ala.; Mobile, Ala.; and Columbus, Ga. Approximately 350 cadets from 60 high schools participated in the academies. Next week, cadets in San Diego, Calif., will attend the summer residential JROTC STEM Academy.

In 2021, The Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS), in partnership with The University of Southern Mississippi (USM) and STEMWorks, LLC., received a $6 million Department of Defense STEM National Defense Education Program award for expansion of the JROTC STEM Leadership Academy.

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USM’s Center for STEM Education is leading the research and evaluation activities, guiding the replication of and measuring the effectiveness of the JROTC program as it grows across the country. Director Dr. Julie Cwikla notes that the upcoming San Diego academy will complete the four sites planned for this year with seven more scheduled over the next two years.

“This year the theme is STEM on the Ground, focused on advanced manufacturing industries,” said Cwikla. “Students are investigating gear ratios, rotational speed vs. torque, and lifting force vs. arm length. They undertake various STEM challenges through the week.”

Robert Hyver serves as Chief, JROTC Division, 6th Brigade USA Cadet Command in Savannah, Ga. He notes that the JROTC STEM Leadership Academy is on the cutting edge of introducing STEM to cadets with a strong collaboration between JROTC, education and workforce development communities.

“The program gives our cadets a first-hand glimpse of what can be achieved through the understanding of science, technology, engineering and math, and how it’s applied in their daily lives,” said Hyver. “We in JROTC work on developing the whole cadet and through this academy, we do just that, giving opportunities for college, certifications for employment through Career and Technical Education, as well as an opportunity to serve our great nation.”

Added Hyver, “Whatever path our cadets take in their future, they will have the understanding through this JROTC STEM Leadership Academy to make an informative decision on their future success.”

Cwikla points out that the leadership academies and other workforce development programs under her leadership provide USM graduate students an opportunity to learn about researching and investigating STEM teaching and learning outside the traditional high school classroom.

“Our students have the opportunity to experience the design and measurement involved with this type of national program, as well as the complex process of scaling a program nationally and researching the process of replication,” said Cwikla. “This is a huge undertaking to develop healthy regional STEM ecosystems for each of these programs.”

As part of the leadership academy initiative, JROTC programs from across the country were invited to apply for start-up funding, professional development, and research support. Cwikla explains that applications were received from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans. Following interviews, 10 locations were selected for replication.

“To say we are excited about modernizing the JROTC summer opportunities is an understatement,” said Cwikla. “And USM is leading the research arm of this work, capturing student learning and career exploration, teacher experiences, along with the growth and development of new STEM partnerships at each location. We know the academy is a proven model for success and we are examining ways we can properly ‘transplant’ and nurture new STEM workforce ecosystems for JROTC cadet learning and success.”

To learn more about the Center for STEM Education at USM call 601.266.4739.