TUPELO - Betsy Smith, director of the Research & Curriculum unit at Mississippi State University, asked Mooreville High School students what computer science means, and explained the myriad ways technology affects our lives.

From software developers creating popular games to app developers updating and maintaining the phone games and social media apps we use everyday, "coding is our future," Smith told the students assembled.

Mississippi-based telecom company C Spire and MSU recently partnered to launch a computer science pilot program called Pathway, which is set to launch in 20 Mississippi high schools and community colleges in the fall.

In the northeast region, the program will be implemented in Lee, Lafayette, Prentiss and Oktibbeha counties.

C Spire senior marketing strategist Scarlet Jones said how the program will be implemented in schools has not yet been determined, but current options include online coursework or dedicated classes.

Itawamba Community College has already begun working on curriculum plans for incoming high school students.

According to code.org, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding computer science access in schools that also develops computer science curriculum for U.S. K-12 school districts, 58 percent of STEM jobs are in computer science but only 10 percent of STEM graduates complete a degree in computer science.

In Mississippi, there are 207 computer science graduates available to fill the 907 open computer science positions in the state.

The reps hosted an informational session for ninth- and tenth-graders to ascertain these students' level of interest ahead of when the program will begin later this year for juniors, because next year, these students will qualify to participate in the program when they are juniors.

"We want to get them thinking about it now because awareness, interest and education are all important factors," Jones said.

Jones said the program has received more interest than expected on the student recruitment tour, but the number of students accepted will depend on funding.

C Spire has committed $500,000 over three years, but Jones said additional funding from area businesses and industries will be integral to growing the number of students who can participate.

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