Well before she stepped foot on campus as a freshman at Jackson State, junior Industrial Technology major Khaela Jones, who graduated from Jim Hill High School in Jackson, had a pretty good idea of what she wanted to study when she got to college.
“The world is changing so fast, and everything revolves around technology,” said Jones. “After high school graduation, we got a chance to come on campus and we basically did summer classes and we visited different companies around Jackson. They talked to us about different opportunities you can go into.”
Unfortunately, her college experience, just like the experience of so many students across the country and the world, was quickly interrupted by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020. Campus shut down and students were forced to take their classes online.
“My freshman year, spring semester, COVID really affected a lot of things,” Jones said. “I didn’t have the full college experience because we just got back on campus this year.”
Jones said while those first couple of years were tough, her educational goals were unaffected. Jones has a fascination with how quickly technology changes and said she enjoys working on computers during her time at the technology lab on campus.
“At first, I wanted to go into civil engineering. But once I saw a little bit of what industrial technology offered, I realized I wanted to be a part of the growing change we experience on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “I’m happy because I’m not really forced to go into one [field], I can go into different fields, and basically everybody needs a tech person. It’s going to be easy for me to find a job.”
There is definitely a demand for workers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics expects one million new STEM jobs to be added this decade, which represents a nearly 11 percent rise in demand and outpaces other industries by three percent.
Additionally, the Pew Research Center says employment in STEM occupations has risen by 79 percent since 1990.
“Companies come and talk to us about the different opportunities they offer,” Jones said. “They offer a whole bunch of internships we can go out and apply for.”
Jones is also aware that STEM fields are lacking in diversity. The Pew Research Center says black workers account for just nine percent of the STEM workforce. That statistic is reflective of the reactions she gets from her friends and others in the community when she tells them about her career goals.
“When I tell a lot of people I’m going into the industrial tech field, they’re really surprised,” Jones said. “I feel like it’s important for people like me to realize that they can do whatever they put their minds to.”
She also said her scholarship from the Mississippi Manufacturers Association is helping her achieve that goal.
“The MMA scholarship has allowed me additional financial aid in order to finish up my college career.”