Eleventh-graders in the Jackson area learned about the importance of ethics, leadership and STEM with help from JSU and West Point ROTC cadets as motivational speaker Army Lt. Col. Adisa King advised them to listen more and surround themselves with quality people.
This is the fifth consecutive year that the event, held recently in the Mississippi e-Center@JSU, has been hosted by the College of Science, Engineering and Technology.
Dr. Shonda Allen, associate director of JSU’s Center for Computational Chemistry, said, “We want to train students to make correct decisions in their lives because those decisions have an impact on our city, our state, our universities. The most important thing we want to get across is that ethics lead your life, and leadership follows ethical principles.”
She said young students this year were able to engage in the aerospace program. Allen also leads the partnership between JSU and JROTC, and both military programs partner with the Jackson Airport Authority to help students learn about flight.
Feelings vs. principles
Meanwhile King, an infantry officer at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and native of Jackson, delivered a resounding message to youth and young adults. The West Point graduate also attended JSU and has deployed five times.
The main value he emphasized to the 11th-graders and cadets is to “remember who you are and whose you are,” he said. “There are people who died for the flag, and you don’t want to dishonor it.” King also reminded the young audience to distinguish between feelings and principles.
“Everyone gets caught up in feelings and will make decisions based on those feelings. You have to consider whether they match up with what you want to do. Most people don’t know their principles, and a lot of our young people don’t understand opportunity, either,” he said. “You must learn to be aware. Even if you’re going through some things, don’t let them define who you are and what you can accomplish.”
King especially touted the importance of youth surrounding themselves with “QTP” (quality-type people) and not “getting caught up with individuals just because it’s considered cool.” He advised the mostly young audience to “let them go” if they are unworthy. And, he said adults also must help create opportunities to inspire youth.
JSU Air Force cadet Simon Williams is a junior computer engineering major in CSET. He assisted a JROTC aviation group by encouraging accountability, technological skills and strong values.
The Jackson native said, “I feel that ethical leadership and STEM are important for teens to embrace because they go hand in hand and support the growth of the world.”
As well, he said, “If your morals are faulty, then the decisions you make could have a less-than-desirable impact. The STEM field warrants you to have sound ethics. The problems being solved in STEM affect not only you but the people around you as well. The way you solve problems is going to be watched and mimicked by others.”
‘Teach them to think more critically’
Dr. Errick Green, superintendent of Jackson Public Schools, hailed the conference for giving “selected scholars” exposure to key individuals in the ROTC world.
“It also preps them on some of the many opportunities available and gives them an idea where they could go and take their careers. It also provides a wonderful opportunity for young people to be encouraged, challenged to work as a team and think about broadening their horizons,” Green said.
“The reality is that we don’t truly know the world in which these young people will live, lead and work from 10 or 20 years out, especially given all the innovation and the speed of that innovation,” Green said. “It’s super important to give students the exposure but also to teach them to think more critically. This way, they can create what will be and not just become consumers or a ride-along in that innovation.”
Aside from technology, Green also emphasized the value of soft skills — working with others cooperatively, being patient, persevering through challenges and thinking through problems. “All of these supersede any particular field of study. So, think about and ask yourself, ‘What’s the leader in me; what’s within me; or what needs to be developed within me so that when I get into those situations I can lead myself, a group or a team.’ ”
Overall, Allen said the ethics and leadership program provides skills about life and careers. “We want our students to not necessarily go into the military — even though it’s an Army-supported program — but we want to expose them to as many opportunities as possible. One of these opportunities is upper-level military schools, where there is an under-representation of minorities.”
Reflectively, Allen said the West Point collaboration “allows Jackson State, the city of Jackson and the state of Mississippi to bring folks from all around the country to show we have a magic happening right here in the capital city and surrounding areas — and it’s with our students.”