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W.K. Kellogg Foundation gave $1 Million to expand Mississippi coding academies

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has given Innovate Mississippi a three-year, $1 million grant to help the newly formed Mississippi Coding Academies grow their current program in Jackson from one academy to four academies over the next three years. The goal is to dramatically increase the number of Jackson-based computer coders trained by the innovative, high-tech workforce-development program.

“We are excited and grateful to receive this generous award from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. These funds will help us expand the program and ensure more aspiring young men and women in the Jackson area receive training and job-placement opportunities for a career in computer coding,” Mike Forster, chairman of the Innovate Mississippi board of directors, said. “There are currently more than a thousand open computer-related jobs in the state of Mississippi alone and that number is expected to grow. This program creates a career path for students who are not college-bound and supports employers who are searching for qualified candidates to fill these open positions.”

The Mississippi Coding Academies is a private/public initiative launched as a joint effort between Innovate Mississippi and the Mississippi Development Authority, with support from the Mississippi Community College Board, Hinds Community College, East Mississippi Community College and the Mississippi Works initiative. The Jackson-based Coding Academy kicked off its inaugural class on October 23, 2017, with 19 students engaged in an 11-month intense workplace-simulated environment designed to teach high-demand computer coding skills to post-secondary students.

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s investment is designed to give low-income young adults in Jackson access to high-quality, sustainable-wage coding and business “soft” skills training. In less than a year, graduating coders are ready for well-paying technology employment through direct access to high-growth companies in Mississippi.

“To ensure that we produce highly skilled coders, we are working closely with employers to help guide the curriculum and to provide mentoring and job-shadowing opportunities. We’re also seeking financial and instructional support from Mississippi companies to ensure that our graduates are ready to hit the ground running at the completion of the program,” Rich Sun, Innovate Mississippi’s entrepreneur-in-residence and board member, said. “We welcome any and all Mississippi employers who want to be a part of this effort.”

This award will cover about one-third of the operating expenses for the Jackson-based Academies to be matched by private sector funding in the second and third year. MDA coordinated most of the funding for the first year.

“The Kellogg grant is making a positive impact on the lives of students in Mississippi by helping them find a pathway to meaningful, well-paying careers,” said MDA Executive Director Glenn McCullough, Jr. “Adding additional Coding Academy classes exposes more students to life-changing educational opportunities. We appreciate the foundation’s support and we are proud to be on the same team.”

In addition, the Columbus-based Academy launched in early December with direct support from the Columbus Municipal School District, and Innovate Mississippi has plans to expand this model to various locations throughout Mississippi. A collaboration with faculty at Mississippi universities is in the planning stages to set operational metrics, validate the processes and create documentation that will enable rapid scaling of coding academies across the state. The ultimate goal is a replicable model that could be used nationally to educate more coders and increase opportunities for underprivileged youth.

The Academies aim to prepare highly motivated high school graduates who are not bound for college or junior college for careers in technology; reduce the shortage of available coding professionals in the state; and establish Mississippi as a high-growth location for the fields of coding and technology.

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