By BECKY GILLETTE
The Mississippi Gulf Coast has one of the most robust job markets in the state for engineering due to major employers like the Chevron Pascagoula Refinery, Huntington Ingalls Industries and others. A market analysis done several years ago showed a 20 percent growth in the projected engineering jobs in the Gulf Coast area.
It used to be that Gulf Coast residents who wanted engineering degrees had to relocate. But, starting in January 2016, MSU began offering the option of pursuing an engineering degree on the Coast. Residents can become engineers without ever leaving the Coast.
MSU now has a partnership with the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC) in Gautier where students can pursue an associate of science degree. Many of the classes for that degree, such as chemistry, math and physics can be counted for general education requirements and other prerequisites for the MSU engineering degree. After completing the two-year degree, students can take courses from MSU at the MGCCC campus that allow students to get a degree in electrical or mechanical engineering.
“We have some space on the Gautier campus of MCGCC where we are delivering about 64 hours towards a 128-hour degree,” said Bagley College of Engineering Dean Dr. Jason Keith. “We are teaching the second two years of that program face-to-face for the most part. But some classes taught here on the MSU campus are recorded and made available to view by students on the Coast. We have a track record of delivering graduate and upper-level undergraduate elective courses to South Mississippi, the rest of the state and all over the U.S., in some cases.”
Currently MSU expects to have 60 students enrolled in the program in the fall. Keith said that includes a mix of traditional students, as well as non-traditional students who may already be in the work force and interesting in improving their skills.
“There are a lot of employees at Chevron, Huntington Ingalls and Mississippi Power, as well as other large and small firms on the Coast that may have people with an associate’s degree who would like to complete a bachelor’s degrees from MSU, and now they can do that,” Keith said.
Travis Adcock, an electrical engineering student, said what he appreciates about the engineering program on the Coast is that he can take classes at night, which is the only way he could finish his degree.
“I have a wife, and a baby due in August, so I could not go back to school during the day and afford to live,” Adcock said. “So, the flexibility of the MSU Gulf Coast curriculum, as well as the help from Dr. Lokesh Shivakumaraiah, has allowed me to progress towards completing my electrical engineering degree and better provide for my family.”
Coast industries have been very supportive. Chevron has given MSU about $2.9 million in support in the past six years. That includes a recent donation of $383,000 that is part of a $1.15-million pledge to support the Bagley College of Engineering over the next three years. Chevron, one of the leading employers of MSU engineering alumni, has helped help fund student scholarships, as well as laboratory spaces in Starkville and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“The entire Bagley College of Engineering has benefited from the programs supported by our long-term relationship with Chevron,” Keith said. “For years, students have benefitted from scholarship support. In addition to these scholarships, this most recent gift will support several exciting projects.”
The recent contribution will support a new laboratory in the planned MSU campus building, that will be the home of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Keith said it will also help fund a thermo-fluids lab on the Gulf Coast, which is used to help students study the principles of fluid flow and heat transfer.
The types of engineering degrees that can be pursued on the Gulf Coast include electrical engineering, which has seven laboratory courses, and mechanical engineering, which has three laboratory classes.
“We currently have 15 electrical engineering students and 45 mechanical engineering students,” Keith said. “Mechanical engineering is our largest degree program here on our campus. We have about 1,000 students enrolled in mechanical engineering out of a total college enrollment of 4,450. We offer 12 different undergraduate degrees. We added petroleum engineering in the fall of 2014 and biomedical engineering in 2016.”
In addition to support from Chevron, Keith said Mississippi Power has provided support for their electrical engineering lab and International Paper has supported a controls lab in electrical engineering.
Keith said that the Bagley College of Engineering provides a great benefit to Mississippi’s economy.
“We’ve seen an increase over the past five to ten years in the number of engineering jobs in the state,” Keith said. “We work very closely with the Office of Research and Economic Development at MSU and the Mississippi Development Authority to try to attract new industries into the state of Mississippi. About half of our graduates stay in the state, and we are working hard to increase that amount because our students do want to stay here because that is where they are from.”