Office of Economic Development | 101 Industrial Road Choctaw, MS 39350 | 601.656.5251 |

Young minds learn to ‘Hack the Future’ at Choctaw event


The Meridian Star by Devna Bose

David Juan, 12, participates in "Hack the Future." He's from San Francisco as part of the Encampment for Citizenship Org.

CHOCTAW - The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians hosted nearly 60 students from all over the state and country this week as part of its first "Hack the Future," an event that encourages young coders , entrepreneurs and engineers to solve real-life problems using advanced technologies provided to them.

The Office of Economic Development coordinated and came up with the event. John Hendrix, the office's director, said the idea came after recruiting new industry to the region and seeing a need for the program.

"Every industry we recruit is looking for a highly skilled workforce," he said. "The jobs that are being created today require a more advanced skill level and some expertise in technology."

Hendrix said the goals of the program are to start a conversation within the community for the need for more advanced training, encourage students to gain that knowledge, and partner with the community outside of the reservation.

The MBCI has partnered with a number of Mississippi community colleges and universities, including East Mississippi Community College, Mississippi State University, Mississippi Coding Academies, Holmes Community College, Hinds Community College, and East Central Community College, as well as a number of industries.

"We are trying to connect the students who are figuring out what they want to do with the academic institutions that are training them to prepare for careers and the industries that are hiring them," Hendrix said.

The MBCI Public Works Department posed several real-life challenges to the students, who then selected five person teams amongst themselves and worked toward finding a solution using the technologies provided to them through the "Hack the Future" event.

"Hacking is the act of taking some things that already exist and hacking them together in a way that has never been done before to make work," Hendrix said.  "We have given them all the tools they need to build something - hacking is putting them together."

The teams are also provided mentors from various disciplines, from communications to programming, and teams will present their solutions by 3 p.m.. on Sunday afternoon.

The event is not all work and no play, however. Over the course of the three day event, the students have gotten to play with interactive virtual and augmented reality headsets, use a lab provided by EMCC and explore a mobile NASA planetarium.

"I think this event is amazing," Massachusetts native Nevaeh Miley, 17, said. "I've never seen VR in real life, so getting to use it was pretty awesome."

Local student Tristan Gibson, 16, said that though he loved video games before "Hack the Future," the event has sparked an interest in pursuing a career in technology.

My uncle is into the technology business, so I'm pretty sure now that I want to follow in his footsteps," he said.

Leigh Jones, 26,  is a student at the Mississippi Coding Academy in Columbus, and worked with a team to solve a problem. The issue they chose was using virtual reality headsets in classrooms in order to encourage learning by solving math problems to get through a game.

"This is a good learning opportunity to collaborate with teams and a good networking event," she said. I'm having a lot of fun so far."

Though this is the first "Hack the Future" event, it definitely won't be the last, according to Hendrix.

"This is the start of a series. We wanted to strengthen our local ecosystem by bringing people to Choctaw to look at the latest technology in the region," he said. "We also want students to get excited about technology. We want to encourage them to actually see technology as something productive." 


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