Rian Walker is a junior at Mississippi State. Born to a teenage mother who has been in and out of prison ever since, the Ocean Springs native started out with an uphill climb. She didn’t let it slow her down, though. Walker would find inspiration in coding (she couldn’t find any MySpace profile templates she liked, so she taught herself how to create her own) and after humble beginnings, is now looking at a lucrative position at a North Carolina firm after graduation.
But she doesn’t want it to be that way.
“I’m heartfelt about changing the reality,” Walker said. “You can see that in both parts of my life: beating the statistics of having an incarcerated parent; beating the statistics of having a teenage parent. I don’t want to leave Mississippi. I’m so excited about this Silicon South initiative because this is work I thought I’d have to come back and do fifteen years down the road.”
The Silicon South Summit told a myriad of stories like this. Like the story of Base Camp Coding Academy: a hands-on, scholarship-based program designed to train students to be software developers in 12 months. The entire effort is the brainchild of Kagan Coughlin, and has set up a model that’s being copied across the country. You can find more info on Base Camp Coding Academy here.
Dr. Sarah Lee, with the Mississippi State department of computer science, is working with the Mississippi Alliance for Women in Computing to spark a passion of computer science and learning in Mississippi’s young women. “One thing that we find with girls and young women is that they don’t see themselves doing computing because they don’t grow up with role models who are female that are in the field of computing.” Lee continued: “One of the goals of this program is to provide mentors and get girls into companies, job shadowing, and internships so they can begin to see themselves in those types of roles.”
Ruthe Farmer, former Senior Policy Advisor for Tech Inclusion at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, spoke of the incredible potential in the Magnolia State, given the large health science corridor here. “There’s a huge opportunity in healthcare information and informatics: maximizing the productivity of healthcare through data science and technology, biotechnology and managing healthcare. These are national priorities, given the aging population of America.” Farmer adds that as companies reshore (bring their operations back to US soil), the opportunities for expansion to Mississippi hinges on one thing: educated talent.