(April 14, 2021) – Life is full of surprises, and Marissa Peterson got an unexpected one during her senior night at Vicksburg High School in 2017.
“They were calling out Jackson State scholarships and I forgot I had even applied,” she said with a laugh. “I found out I got a full academic scholarship.”
The full ride made her college decision easy, but at the time, it was the only certain thing about her future.
“Once you go to college, you’re around so many people who have their life planned out and you just feel like you’re so behind. Everybody knows they want to be a doctor, they want to be a civil engineer, they want to go and be a nurse,” Peterson said. “But when you just don’t know, you kinda feel lost and you don’t know what internships to apply to, you don’t know what organizations to join.”
Her curiosity for a different path was piqued in eighth grade when she was enrolled in the Vicksburg Warren Central School District’s Academy of Innovation. The academy’s website says it is designed for “students who exhibit exceptional abilities in academics”, specifically in science, math, engineering, and technology.
“It’s a lot more innovative learning, a lot of hands-on versus just sitting in a class listening to your teachers,” Peterson said. “They had us doing a lot of different projects, reading different books, going on different trips around Mississippi. It was literally the best thing that happened to me.
“It just gave me more opportunities. It showed me there’s more out there.”
Once she started taking classes at JSU, it did not take long for Peterson to start narrowing down a possible career path.
“I had some programming classes and some computer hardware classes that were interesting to me,” Peterson said. “I ended up learning how to build a computer. Those were some of the very first things I did in my major where I was like, ‘OK, this is for me. I wanna learn more about this’.”
Later on, she took a computer-aided drafting class. That is where she found her passion.
“It was the fact that I was able to create whatever I wanted to create. As far as technology goes, I could do anything,” she said. “That led me to believe I could improve on anything technology-wise. Everything today runs on technology. I just felt like that was just perfect for me. I could really go into this field and do something amazing.”
And that is exactly what she is going to do. Peterson will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology with a Computer Technology concentration.
From there, she will join the United State Air Force.
She said enrolling in the military is something she did not envision.
“Never, oh my gosh, never,” Peterson said. “My dad, he was in the Army. He was telling me it’s so hard, it’s not for everybody. I didn’t really know about the other branches of the military until I got older and started doing my own research, so growing up, when I thought military, I always thought Army, and I was like, ‘I’m not gonna do that’.
“I’m just trying to see where it leads me. I know it could make a career for me, and because that’s what I’m interested in, I feel like it could be perfect. I just haven’t figured out exactly what I want to do. I’m just doing more research, talking to my recruiter about different things.”
While it is another unexpected path for Peterson, it is not a surprising one considering she is fascinated with airplanes.
“I wanted to be an aircraft engineer or aircraft systems manager. I just feel like it’s so interesting,” she said. “And also, because I love airplanes. I feel like it’s just so amazing that something so big could stay in the air for so long.”
Her professor and advisor at JSU, Dr. Hui-Ru Shih, said the Air Force will be a good fit for his soon-to-be former student.
“Marissa is a wonderful person with a positive attitude; she is intelligent, inquisitive, and sincere. She is also a quick learner. She leaves an impressionable mark on everyone with whom she comes in contact,” Dr. Shih said. “Ms. Peterson is a dedicated student and is committed to the tasks that she is given. She possesses the positive attributes that one would need to successfully serve in the military.”
And she says her scholarship from the Mississippi Manufacturers Association is a big reason why she is able to fulfill her dreams sooner rather than later.
“It was a big help because I ended up taking 21 credits, and after 19 credits you get charged like $300 per extra hour,” she said. “So I was able to take more classes and I was able to graduate on time because I was actually gonna be a semester behind. Once I got that scholarship, I was just so happy because this is exactly the right amount that I needed to do exactly what I need to do.”