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Coahoma Community College

Taking business to students, and students to business

CLARKSDALE – Lois McMurchy, executive director of Coahoma Community College’s Skilled Technical Industrial Training Center, pointed to a response given by a grade-schooler who had attended a training center-coordinated science seminar at a local school. “Thank you for showing me what the ocean looks like,” the student said.

“We have children who have never seen the Mississippi River, which is maybe only 10 or 12 miles away from their house,” McMurchy said. “We have students who never get to see the world, the opportunities out there. So, we try to bring the world and those opportunities to them.

“At the same time, we’re committed to helping business in the Delta meet their needs. We don’t have a magic wand, but if business comes to us with a specific need, we will do everything we can to provide customized training, and do it in a heartbeat. I believe we have had great success in meeting the specific needs of the Delta and Deltans.”

While the training center existed before 1994, it was that year when it made a commitment to augment its efforts. The mission was to provide children the opportunity to see potential careers, not just jobs, and at the same time turn out students with the proper knowledge and skills that it takes to serve and grow Delta business.

“We didn’t draw up a program, then take it to the business world,” McMurchy explained. “We went to them first and built a program around the needs we heard they had. We’re here for them, not vice versa.”

While the center offers customized training, it also offers a wide variety of ongoing programs. In one of these programs, a team of 10 U.S. Navy scientists work on a project one-on-one in real time without either students or scientists leaving their desks through live camera feeds via the Internet.

McMurchy said technology has been goal one since the training center was established.

“We were committed to investing in technology, to being on the cutting edge,” she said. “Technology such as the Internet has opened whole new ways of bringing education and the exchange of ideas to Delta students. It allows us to be hugely more effective and successful.”

A service the center offers business is staff development and pre-employment screening. The center evaluates personnel, looking at everything from knowledge of safety regulations to personality traits. The data is compiled in report form for the employer’s use.

McMurchy said partnerships were also important to the center’s success. In one program the Grand Casino in Robinsonville has adopted two communities (Jonestown and Marks). The Grand does community service, such as refurbishing a community center. In return, the mayor helps recruit prospective employees for non-gaming positions – golf courses, hotel and restaurant and other service jobs – that McMurchy said start at between $7-$8 per hour. McMurchy’s staff also offers other continuing education such as computers and second languages. McMurchy said the program has taken 500 people off welfare rolls.

While the center has pushed for state-of-the-art equipment and the recruitment of students into high-tech careers, McMurchy pointed out that serving the Delta and the generally regrettable socio-economic situation a lot of Deltans face means her staff must also work on the basics.

“We teach resume writing. We’ll give instruction on appropriate behavior, even things like being on time. In a number of cases, we have to teach our students what a work ethic is,” she said.

The training center has a lot to point to for proof of success. Sheer numbers served is just one. In 1993, McMurchy said 252 people went through training. The center now sees about 11,000 people pass through its programs yearly, about 7,000-8,000 of those adults.

“The growth has been phenomenal,” McMurchy said.

McMurchy said one key to the center’s continued success is forming more partnerships, such as current ones with Stennis Space Center on the Coast, Delta State University and Mississippi Delta Community College.

“The state lacks some resources, but we have to make sure we totally use the resources we do have,” she said. “And all of Mississippi’s community and junior colleges are excellent. You can get customized training from all of them.”

McMurchy said her future dreams was for Coahoma to house the finest technical training center anywhere in the U.S. She said she also hopes Mississippi businesses, particularly in the Delta, utilize the center’s services.

“What would I say to all Mississippi businesses? Call us.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.


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