Get on the Grid

About me, MEI’s Summer Intern

Hi! My name is Mimi, I am 18 years old, and I just graduated from St. Andrews Episcopal School.  I plan on attending Mississippi State University in the fall of 2016 to study chemical engineering (Hail State!), and I was lucky enough to land an intern opportunity with MEI’s Get on the Grid program before I go back to school. I’ve been at MEI for just over two weeks now and my experience here has really demonstrated to me the importance of energy & manufacturing in Mississippi. I am relatively unfamiliar with any job for my age group that revolves around the energy field, so being able to work for MEI has become an amazing learning opportunity as I begin my adult life.


Having just graduated high school, I am fully aware of the significance of planning out a career path before going to college. As I continue to work with Get on the Grid I keep thinking about how remarkable it is to have a website that creates a career path for you, gives you all the necessary information about said career path, and ensures that you follow through with that path. Get on the Grid MS in combination with the vast amount of energy related jobs available in Mississippi could very well become one the solutions to unemployment on our state.


Now I know what some of you are thinking, why should I care about the intern’s opinion of Get on the Grid? I did just graduate high school, and I am no engineer (yet) nor am I an expert at unemployment solutions. But I am a student, and having just gone through the college selection process I fully understand the importance of career planning. If I had been given a website like Get on the Grid at an earlier age not only would I have developed a more keen understanding of jobs in energy and manufacturing, but I also would have explored more potential college opportunities in the sector.


Basically Get on the Grid not only broadens the horizons of careers for new students, but it also has the potential to give stable jobs to an entire generation of young adults simply by demonstrating the impact of energy related occupations. Because I am a student, a recent high school graduate, and an intern I believe that I am capable of delivering an honest analysis of Get on the Grid because it applies to my age group. Ultimately Get on the Grid is an effective website that needs to be utilized by the young minds of Mississippi, and I could not be more excited to intern for such an impressive program.

Mississippi State/MGCCC Engineering Programs to Receive $150,000 from Chevron

Mississippi State University’s collaborative program with Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to encourage students to pursue degrees in electrical or mechanical engineering received a $150,000 contribution from Chevron. Read more here.

Get on the Grid Gaining National Attention with Workforce Groups

DWFC Group

Boston, MA-based National Fund for Workforce Solutions, a growing national partnership of employers, workers, communities and philanthropy that strengthens local economies by implementing demand-driven strategies that create talent supply chains, advance workers into family-supporting careers, and improve workforce development systems, recently awarded Foundation for the Mid-South and the Mississippi Energy Institute for their efforts in workforce development with the launch of Get on the Grid.

Institute aims to prep new generation for utility work

Published by the Delta Democrat Times on May 8, 2015
Written by:
Tom Bassing

GREENVILLE — The demand for well-paying jobs in the energy sector is only going to rise, the president of the Mississippi Energy Institute on Thursday told the Rotary Club of Greenville.

And the industry-funded institute wants to help prepare a new generation of utility workers to take advantage of those looming opportunities, Greenville native and institute president Patrick Sullivan said in promoting the Jackson-based organization’s recently launched website.

The website, he said to Rotarians, is designed to direct students to educational opportunities to prepare for such positions, including schools such as Mississippi Delta Community College, in Moorhead, which also hosts classes at the Greenville Higher Education Center.
“We’re trying to reach out to teenagers,” Sullivan said of the intent behind the website: “It’s designed to point them to a pathway, to push more people into the pipeline.

“We want to spread the word that this resource is available.”

The effort, which is funded by energy and manufacturing companies, is not intended “to replace any existing program, but to become the information hub that centralizes information for skilled professional career programs and websites across the state,” according to the website.

“Educators, employers and other interested parties can point to Get On The Grid as a starting block into these professional careers.”
Not only are energy-related industries expanding, they employ an aging workforce, Sullivan said.

“The average age (of workers in such industries) in Mississippi is well into the 50s,” he said. “We need to develop the workforce to meet the growing need and to replace workers as they retire.

“We feel will help meet both those needs.”

MEI kicks off youth workforce development push in Starkville

The following article was first published by the Starkville Daily News on April 9, 2015.


Photo by James Carskadon, SDN


Meredith Gunn, director of workforce development for the Mississippi Energy Institute, was back “in the middle school mindset” Wednesday morning as she spoke to students in Hannah Rachel Smith’s 8th grade English class at Armstrong Middle School.

Gunn was attempting to challenge the perception of manufacturing and manual labor jobs she believes many people have. With some workforce training during or after high school, Mississippi’s future graduates can fill the void of employees needed for advanced manufacturing jobs in energy and other industries, Gunn said.

As part of an MEI initiative, Gunn is trying to make sure young students know these training and career paths are available. Armstrong was her first school stop among a statewide tour to promote MEI’s new website,

The website is designed to promote careers in energy and manufacturing and provide a database of training and jobs available. Gunn said she is hoping to change the way students feel about these jobs.

“What I’ve found when talking across the state is that people shy away when they hear ‘vocational,’” Gunn said. “A lot of it is just rebranding to show that these are great careers.”

The Mississippi Energy Institute is a “think tank” that Gunn said tries to be a resource for the energy industry and economic development in the state. The institute’s board of directors includes representatives from some of the largest businesses operating in Mississippi, including Nissan, Atmos Energy, Georgia Pacific and Chevron. Economic groups such as the Mississippi Development Authority and the Mississippi Economic Development Council also have representatives on the board of directors.

MEI president Patrick Sullivan describes MEI as “a non-profit business aimed at partnering with Mississippi’s government leaders, academic institutions, and economic development and business communities to develop growth-minded policies to maximize energy based economic development in Mississippi” on the organization’s website.

Mississippi Department of Education Associate Superintendent Mike Mulvihill said he has seen more investment in career and technical education (CTE) at the high school and community college level from industry.

“You’re seeing a real concerted effort to provide better workforce development,” Mulvihill said.

High school CTE programs are aligning their training to provide for transitions into community college and higher education programs, Mulvihill said. Additionally, community colleges are working to provide dual-enrollment workforce training classes at high schools.

Mulvihill said students in the 8th grade are taking interest inventories and aptitude tests that will help them put together a graduation plan for each individual. Counselors can then help guide students when trying to choose between workforce training certificates and four-year colleges. MEI is hosting a webinar for school counselors next week to inform them about “Get on the Grid.”

As Gunn took on the task of getting 8th graders to think about what kind of salary is sufficient to raise a family, she informed them that a welder with advanced training can make between $40,000-$100,000 a year. Of course, if those students do pursue a technical career, they will still need an education that incorporates life skills that make for quality employees, something Smith tried to impress on her students.

“We’re trying to teach you a lot more than how to write a paper or solve an equation,” Smith said.

Gunn said she will focus outreach efforts in Tupelo and the Delta, as well as areas where students tend to choose attending a nearby community college over a four-year institution after high school.

Kids These Days…

Let me start by saying that never in my 25 years did I expect to utter those words before the age of 85. I have grand plans of being a cool old lady; referring to people under 18 as “those kids” screams, “Get off my lawn!” not, “Here’s an extra $20 for gas.” But I digress.

I had the opportunity this month to set up a Get On The Grid booth at a vocational fair in Leakesville Junior High School. As I drove the final 31 miles behind a chicken trailer down two-lane Highway 98, I told myself that while it was possible none of the kids would pay attention to me, I definitely had the best candy. I don’t know a single 14-year-old who can refuse a Snickers, so perhaps I could sneak in career information between bites and no one would be the wiser.

But I’m here to tell you, ladies and gents, kids these days… are bright, engaging, and already planning their futures. In a chaotic gymnasium full of athletic hoodies and raging hormones, my table was full of kids pumping me for information.


photo (12)

Two Greene County students signing up to receive more information on Get on the Grid.

“What is Get On The Grid?”

“My cousin is a welder on the coast. I’ve been thinking getting into that, too.”

“Can I make money if I don’t go to college?”

“Do you have something I can look at later when I get home?”

Of course, you have the occasional interaction with a confused student. One guy asked where I worked, and before I could finish, “Mississippi Energy Institute,” he turned and yelled across the gym at his friend. “Hey bro! This lady says she does energy. Maybe you could talk to her and lose some weight!” I hid behind my laptop and explained, “That’s not exactly the same kind of energy.” The poor guy looked genuinely defeated and said, “Oh. Well I didn’t know, he’s just my friend and he’s always talking about how he wants to be skinny. I just wanted to help.” Bless his heart. May we all have friends who care for our well-being, and may they never shout our deepest fears across a crowded gym.

By the end of the morning, I was able to walk over 100 students through the website. They were genuinely intrigued, especially by the videos and salary information, and almost all asked for more information. We were also listed as “Most Interesting Booth” on several survey sheets. That part may actually have been the Snickers, but I like to think not.

Moral of the story: kids these days are acutely aware of the world around them. They take in career information like sponges, and resources like Get On The Grid spark their very visual minds. Invested educators are taking advantage of resources like Get On The Grid to prove to their students that professional career possibilities are right in their home state—even in their own backyards.

A special thanks to Dawn Wallace and Dr. Tom Wallace for inviting MEI to participate in their wildly successful career day and to educators across the state who are just as invested in the futures of their students. If you would like to bring Get On The Grid to a school or career fair near you, contact me at or (601) 351-9891. I can’t wait to get to know your students and to work with you to build the next generation of successful Mississippians.

Have You Heard about the 24-Year-Old Welder with a 140K Salary?

On January 7, 2015, the Wall Street Journal ran a story highlighting Justin Friend, a 24-year-old welder in Texas. The below is written by Meredith Gunn of the Mississippi Energy Institute.

Could the key to spurring development in industrial America and increasing household incomes be as simple as rewriting the dialogue about technical careers?

Justin Friend and I have a lot in common. He’s 24, I’m 25. His parents graduated from college and went on to become college professors; mine graduated from college and are an attorney and an entrepreneur. He’s interested in engines and how things work, and I’m handy in the sense that I enjoy a good pint of Ben & Jerry’s while watching MythBusters (it’s practically the same).

A few differences, though: Justin knew from an early age that he wanted to work with his hands, whilst I always had my nose in a book. Justin decided in junior high to take welder training courses, and put that early education to use mending fences for his neighbors. The most money I ever got out of my neighbors was from a poorly-constructed lemonade stand shut down within the first hour of that scorching July afternoon. Justin knew that a two-year training program at Texas State Technical College was the golden ticket to his dream job. I settled on a major sometime around second semester of my sophomore year at a four-year, private institution, and then went to grad school. Justin makes over $140,000/year at his job, and I… don’t.

Let’s make this clear: I love my alma maters and my advanced degree. I’m in a field that plays to my strengths and where I can grow. The problem is, I can’t say for certain that everyone around me feels the same way because we didn’t talk about it. When I came through—six long years ago—there was one road to the American Dream, and it usually led through a liberal arts college and sported a fancy price tag.

So how did Justin have it all figured out? Perhaps, it was the conversations he had. His parents recognized his struggles in the classroom and his knack for mechanics. They, along with his educators, encouraged him to try careers in line with his strengths while he was still young so that by the time college came, he had a better idea of what he wanted to do—and he’d already made money doing it.

Could the key to spurring American innovation and increasing our overall standard of living be as simple as rewriting the dialogue about technical careers? If we created an environment that encouraged more career exploration in middle school—when the stakes are low—would we see an increased percentage of high school graduates? If we removed the stigma of “dirty jobs” from those who are fortunate enough to work in jeans, would we see increased enrollment in training programs for these well-paying careers?

The data suggests that we would. To quote the article about Justin, “nearly a third of people aged 22 through 25 with a Bachelor of Arts degree either don’t have a job or are working at one that doesn’t require a university degree.” In comparison, the Texas State Technical College, for example, has seen a 70% increase in enrollment from just three years ago, and “most of its welding students secure jobs before they graduate.” Jobs do not ensure financial freedom, as my newly-graduated peers will quickly tell you. US student loan debt is up to $1.13 trillion as of September 30, 2014. Meanwhile, Justin has relatively no student loan debt, minimal expenses, and a brand new $53,000 Ford F-250. My 12-year-old Honda is crying with embarrassment.

Bottom line: everyone has different strengths. I’m certainly not suggesting we minimize four-year degrees or positions for college grads (Dear Lord, please don’t! This girl has to eat).

What I am saying is that a different dialogue would likely increase early recognition and encouragement of everyone’s strengths—especially those that pay 2-3 times what the rest of the private sector is making. Let’s change the conversation from college-only to college-optional, and see if that doesn’t motivate our next generation of well-paid professionals. Mississippi’s economic future may just depend on it.

Unemployment Rate Among College Graduates Under 25

Unemployment Rate Among College Graduates Under 25

Class of 2014
Average debt per borrower in each year’s graduating class.

Class of 2014 Average debt per borrower in each year's graduating class.