Spring Hill College Alumnus Shares Value of MCPSS JROTC STEM Leadership Academy

(Mobile, Ala.) Spring Hill College opens its campus once again to Mobile County high school students taking part in the JROTC STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Leadership Academy for the ninth year. This residential summer camp presents 9th and 10th grade students with a first-hand experience in basic U.S. Army training and local STEM-related careers, preparing them for a future in the workforce.

Over the course of six days, students are exposed to a series of hands-on events that implore them to engage in STEM content, skills, and fields of study. During the camp, they receive mentorship from scientists and engineers, take interactive tours around area industry facilities, and compete in team-based design challenges.  

Students also participate in JROTC leadership activities like rappelling, orienteering, physical fitness, drown proofing, etc. While challenging, students have a safe environment to build up their mental and physical strength as leaders.

MCPSS Director of Army Instruction LTC (Ret.) Robert F. Barrow, a Spring Hill 2008 alumnus, is the vision behind the STEM Academy. He explains the program focuses on three major areas of industry that are STEM-related, which are aviation, maritime and advanced manufacturing. Mobile’s job landscape in these areas of business is flourishing. The more positions that become available, the greater the opportunity students have to finding a solid career path with the help of the STEM academy.  

From touring STEM-dependent worksites in Mobile, Barrow understands the great magnitude of career possibilities that could be in store for his students. In order to grant students with a better life outcome, he knows how important it is to expand learning opportunities outside of the classroom and give them a scope of different STEM pathways that are local.

“I appreciate the fact they [STEM-related industry experts] open their doors for us. There’s always going to be a handful of kids who say, ‘This isn’t something I want to do.’ And that’s all right. I just want them to have a chance to see what may be possible for them…”

The structure of the program includes three layers of components in its curriculum: 1) STEM Learning, 2) Workforce Development, 3) U.S. Army-centric requirements. The academy is founded on principles of character, education curriculum, and culture.

Funding for the MCPSS JROTC STEM Leadership Academy comes from a six million-dollar U.S. Department of Defense grant that expands the program model into other school districts for the next three years. According to Barrow, this year, the academy’s reach is at six districts. This coming year, it’s expected to extend to 10 districts in areas such as Atlanta, San Diego, Dallas, San Antonio, and many more. By the end of the grant, the program will have arrived at 14 districts.

This grant is part of more than $47 million awarded to 15 education institutions and nonprofits under the National Defense Education Program (NDEP) in STEM, Biotechnology, and Enhanced Civics Education.

Barrow will step away from the program in July as he goes into full retirement. The greatest treasure for him is seeing his former students live up to their potential and lead successful lives. He expresses how dearly he’ll miss all the youth he’s helped along their life journey.

“Through this program, you grow to love these kids. And they know it when you do. And if they do, they’re going to really tighten up and listen to you… There are thousands and thousands of kids who pass through the system without the guidance and direction they crave and need. They could use a program like this.”

Spring Hill is grateful for alumni, like Barrow, who return to bring hope and opportunity to the community we serve, leaving students with valuable life skills and lessons. He looks forward to dedicating much of his time to family. We wish him the greatest of retirements, as we look toward his successor to carry forward the torch he lit.

Founded in 1830, Spring Hill College is the oldest Catholic college in the Southeast and the third oldest Jesuit college in the United States. Spring Hill combines the Jesuit tradition of excellence in education and a commitment to caring for the whole person — mind, body and spirit — with innovative educational experiences. Located in Mobile, Ala., Spring Hill’s mission is to form leaders engaged in learning, faith, justice, and service for life. As a result, Spring Hill students are engaged, inspired and transformed by their experiences.

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