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Mississippi Coding Academy students
DSC Training Academy and Mississippi Coding Academy are partnering to open a new coding campus in south Jackson. One of the academy’s goals is to provide senior instructors with industry experience that they can share with students. Photo courtesy Mississippi Coding Academy

Forging Economic Empowerment: New Satellite Coding Academy Opens in South Jackson

The National Women’s Law Center reports that Black and Latina women make 56 cents on the dollar compared to white men, whereas Indigenous American women are paid 54 cents for every dollar compared to white men. Mississippi is the only state in the country that does not have an equal-pay law. 

But changing those statistics is a desired outcome as DSC Training Academy and Mississippi Coding Academy partner to open a new coding campus in south Jackson. The new academy’s location will operate out of the workforce development center on Interstate 55 South Frontage Road and will offer convenience for potential coders from south Jackson, Hinds County and the metro area, DSC Training Academy President Willie Jones said at a virtual press conference on April 8.

“Workforce training for jobs in the computer and coding industry is a great opportunity for individuals to create middle-class employment and uplift the quality of living for many,” Jones said. 

“We propose to utilize the career opportunities in the industry of coding and transportation to employ Mississippians in jobs providing great incomes and benefits to help improve the quality of life for families and communities.” 

Willie Jones headshot
Willie Jones, president of the DSC Training Academy, has 30 years of experience in workforce development and empowering individuals in transportation in Mississippi. Photo courtesy JPG

DSC has been supplying experienced professionals and Department of Transportation commercial drivers to manufacturers, distributors and motor carriers throughout the South since 1995. The original Mississippi Coding Academy in Jackson, which is downtown on State Street, will offer remote instruction to the south Jackson location, and instructors are free to move between campuses. 

“This program will enable young adults and unemployed or underemployed adults to complete the coding certification leading directly to jobs with starting salaries averaging $40,000 or higher annually,” the DSC Training Academy president, who is also on the Mississippi Free Press advisory board, explained. 

This partnership will also work to help move women into non-traditional careers as a pathway to economic security. 

“By increasing women’s participation in highly skilled fields, we can help close the gap and increase the economic security for women and their families and their children, changing the quality of life for women and communities and empowering the Mississippi economy,” Jones said. 

‘If You Can Do It In the South’

Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable Executive Director Cassandra Welchlin said too many women are blocked from higher-paid, male-dominated jobs, such as those in technology and truck driving.

Barriers such as harassment, isolation, discouragement, exclusion and lack of information about alternative job options prevent women’s entry into higher-wage jobs, Welchlin said at the press conference. 

“We know in the state of Mississippi, poverty is really high. Single women who are heads of households is where poverty really lies. This is really a game changer for households in Mississippi, households in Jackson, households in south Jackson,” she said. 

The typical amount a Mississippi woman loses annually to the wage gap could pay for 14 months of rent at $728 a month, 27 months of child care for a 4-year-old at $379.66 a month or 23 months of health insurance premiums at $450.66 a month, she added.

Cassandra Welchlin standing in doorway
Cassandra Welchlin is the executive director of the Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable—an intergenerational network of Black women and girls working to increase voter participation and fight for public policies to lay a solid foundation of economic security in Black communities. Photo courtesy  MBWR

Over a 40-year-career, women in Mississippi stand to lose $415,560 to the wage gap, and Black and Latina women could lose more than $800,000 in their careers, the National Women’s Law Center reports. 

“That goes towards retirement, that can go towards mortgage, that can just go towards a vacation because everyone deserves a right to be happy,” Welchlin said of the money women lose over the span of their careers and lifetime. 

The Mississippi Black Women’s Roundtable works to increase voter participation and fight for public policies that affect Black women and girls’ lives so they can be economically secure. The organization is working toward an equal-pay law and Welchlin believes this new coding academy will help in that work. 

“If you can do it in the South, and you can do it in Mississippi, you can do it anywhere,” Welchlin stated. 

‘Life and Investment in South Jackson’

Mississippi Coding Academy Board Chairman Mike Forster said the short-term goal is to quadruple the size of the Jackson academy this year with half that growth happening at the south Jackson campus. 

The Mississippi Coding Academy began four years ago after Forster and Richard Sun visited the Base Camp Coding Academy in Water Valley, Miss. With funding from the Mississippi Development Authority, they established coding campuses in Jackson and Columbus. The academy has graduated 80 Mississippians to date. 

“We’re not just giving some skills that they can use for a job tomorrow. These are skills that are the basis for careers in technology,” Forster said at the press conference. 

“These are skills that if they stick with it, if they continue to grow and develop, they can carry this all the way for the next 30 years and have tremendous careers and continued growth opportunities in terms of earnings.”

State Sen. Hillman Frazier of Jackson said the Legislature tries to allocate funds to workforce development, and the new coding academy is an example of what they should be funding on a state level. 

He hopes the community puts their arms around the program and shows support as he looks forward to watching it bloom and expand further. 

“South Jackson has often been neglected over the years, but this is one step that is going to bring south Jackson back to life and investment in south Jackson,” Frazier said at the press conference.

‘Something That Is Very Much Needed’

Nashlie Sephus
Nashlie Sephus, Jackson native and founder of The Bean Path, recently purchased 12 acres of property on Gallatin Street to develop the Jackson Tech District. Photo courtesy Brandon Smith

Dr. Nashlie Sephus closed the press conference with a virtual message, applauding the work that Willie Jones and the Mississippi Coding Academy have done. Sephus is now an applied science manager at Amazon, focusing on fairness and mitigating bias in artificial-intelligence technology such as face recognition. She is founder of a Jackson nonprofit, The Bean Path in west Jackson. The organization helps bridge the tech gap, providing a place for those who seek technical help with what they need. 

Sephus, who is a board member for the Mississippi Coding Academy and a Jackson native, said she knows the challenges that exist in the state, she knows the opportunities that are available, and she knows the brilliant people who reside here. Some of the academy’s graduates have worked with Sephus at The Bean Path, she said. 

“This is something that is very much so needed. I’m happy to see these satellite locations pop up across the entire state. And I’m very happy that this is something that is going to bring a lot of opportunity, workforce skills and development to the area which, in turn, leads to economic development, which is something that all Jacksonians will love to see happen,” Sephus said. 

The south Jackson coding academy is operating out of the workforce development center at 3906 I-55 South Frontage Road, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.. To learn more about the Mississippi Coding Academy and to apply, you can visit their website here. And to learn more about DSC Training Academy, you can visit their website here

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