Winning second place was the Madison Central High School team of Eric Chen, Drew Dunn, advisor Cam Ogletree,  Ian Garrett and Kian Kolahdouzan in the C Spire C3 Coding Challenge.
Winning second place was the Madison Central High School team of Eric Chen, Drew Dunn, advisor Cam Ogletree, Ian Garrett and Kian Kolahdouzan in the C Spire C3 Coding Challenge.
Madison Central High School claimed second place in  the fifth regional C Spire C3 coding challenge that pitted teams from 30 public and private schools across 24 counties competing for scholarships and tech-related prizes.

Clinton High School won first place in the competition at C Spire’s Ridgeland  headquarters last THursday with Madison Central High School placing second and Long Beach High School finishing in third place. The first-place team members won $2,000 scholarships each, while second and third place team members received $1,500 and $1,000 scholarships each. 

This was the fifth regional coding challenge convened by C Spire, a Mississippi-based wireless, technology and broadband company, since 2017 to better prepare students for a high-tech future by encouraging and enabling them to pursue a degree and career in information technology and computer science.

The C Spire coding challenge featured teams of up to four students and at least one adviser from each school who used critical thinking and problem-solving skills to solve a fun-fresh computer coding challenge during the daylong competition. Four previous competitions since April 2017 have involved 88 high schools and more than 380 students in 49 counties.

C Spire employees with IT backgrounds and experience volunteered and helped each team. Pepper, a four-foot tall humanoid robot from Softbank Robotics America with a tablet for a chest, also was on hand interacting with students and other guests participating in the competition. Lobaki, a Jackson-based virtual reality firm, provided demonstrations throughout the day. 

“It was a fun, entertaining and educational day for all of the students who participated in the challenge,” said Carla Lewis, chief information officer for C Spire. “Programs like this one can help inspire and encourage you people to seriously consider IT and computer science as an academic and career path.”

Workers with a background in computer science are in high demand and short supply in Mississippi. Employers currently have nearly 1,000 unfilled job openings due to the serious shortage of trained, qualified IT workers, Lewis said. The average entry- level salary for qualified junior IT workers is more than $50,000 a year, 30 percent higher than the statewide average.

“It’s never too early to start preparing students for a technology-infused future,” Lewis said. Research shows that by the time children in grades K-6 graduate from high school and college, 60 percent will work in jobs and professions that do not exist today. “Jobs and professions constantly evolve and we need to inspire, educate and prepare children for a new tomorrow,” she added.

The C3 program can serve as an important first step to increase interest in computer science, Lewis said. In 2018, only 191 students in the state took the AP computer science exam and only 217 students graduated from college with computer science degrees in 2017, according to Code.org, a computer science education advocacy group.

The company-sponsored coding challenges and support for other public and private programs like the Base Camp Coding Academy and a recent partnership with Mississippi State University Research and Curriculum Unit’s Center for Cyber Education are designed to help C Spire deliver on its promise to help build a 21st century technology workforce in its region.

C3 is part of a broader C Spire Tech Movement initiative designed to move communities forward through technology with a focus on broadband access, workforce development and innovation.

“We live in a software-defined world where coding and the internet strongly influence every aspect of our lives,” Lewis said. “Computer science drives innovation and creates jobs throughout our economy, but we need to do more to train teachers and encourage schools to offer courses for young people to pursue IT and computer science as viable career choices.”

To learn more about the C3 coding challenge, visit www.cspire.com/c3. To learn more about the C Spire Tech Movement and how businesses and individuals can volunteer or financially support these workforce development initiatives, visit www.cspire.com/techmvmt.