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Alcorn student leader works to advance other students in STEM fields

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Alexandria Williams (photo courtesy ASU)

Last year, Alcorn State University was granted its official charter for the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers Chapter. This year, the organization appointed its first student leader.

Alexandria Williams, a junior computer science major from Detroit, Michigan, was named the first Miss NOBCChE for the Alcorn chapter. The organization assists aspiring STEM students in gathering knowledge about the field and becoming STEM professionals.

Solidifying her leadership role in the chapter is significant for Williams because she feels the chapter can achieve excellence. She’s happy to play a critical role in the chapter’s legacy on campus.

“It’s an incredible honor to be crowned Alcorn’s first Miss NOBCChE,” Williams said. “Alcorn’s chapter is destined for greatness, so this is history in the making. To be a part of this history feels amazing.”

Sonia Eley, NOBCChE adviser and chemistry professor, is confident in Williams’ ability to represent the chapter.

“Alexandria possesses the qualities it takes to lead this chapter,” Eley said. “Her intelligence, rapport with her peers and love for STEM make her the ideal selection for the position. I have faith that she will be an excellent leader whose exceptional decision-making skills would move this chapter forward.”

In her decision making, Williams relies on faith to steer her into her purpose. She’s confident that accepting her leadership role is the right path for her.

“I try to align everything I do with God’s purpose in my life,” she said. “I joined NOBCChE last school year and served as the social media and graphic design chairman. Through my experience, I learned more about my field of study, gained community service hours and made new friends. I had such an amazing experience that when I was presented with the opportunity to represent the organization, I couldn’t resist accepting the position.”

The chapter showcases the talent of Alcorn’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics majors. Williams applauds NOBCChE for providing a platform for aspiring Black STEM professionals.

“I believe that Alcorn’s NOBCChE chapter is important because the world needs to recognize the power of talented Black STEM students,” she said. “We are capable of being great in this space, and we possess the ability to change the STEM profession’s landscape. NOBCChE is one of many platforms that showcases our talent and worth.”

Ever-changing technological advances inspired Williams to become a computer science major. Watching these advancements fuel her desire to be one of the future’s leading engineers.

“We witness technological advances often. The world is transitioning to a new technological age,” she said. “We have autonomous vehicles, face detection in the palm of our hands and scientists are equipped to reverse paralysis. During this change, the world is searching for people to develop new technologies and introduce them to the world. Those professionals are engineers, and for some time, I’ve been dreaming about becoming one.”

Encouraging younger students to pursue STEM programs and careers also excites Williams. Last summer in her hometown, she created Coder Gals, a four-week program that introduces girls in grades three through five to STEM and coding concepts. Williams prepares a curriculum for the students, hosts workshops, trains mentors and distributes newsletters to parents. The lack of women engineers was Williams’ motivation for starting the initiative.

“I started a chapter in my community because of the lack of female representation in STEM fields. We strive to spark young girls’ interest in coding through fun, creative, and collaborative projects and create the foundation for their future success. We instill in them that they can succeed in any male-dominated field that they choose.”

COVID-19

Dr. Woodward: ‘Wear a damn mask’

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(Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash)

Dr. LuAnn Woodward’s frustration is palpable in a tweet she has pinned at the top of her Twitter page.

“Wear a damn mask. Wash your hands. It’s not a big deal. It’s not political. Just do it!” she wrote in July as the first of four bullet points.

Whatever was relevant in July is even more so in November as cases and hospitalizations rocket past July’s numbers.

Woodward is the vice chancellor of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, a place that is intimately familiar with the challenges of providing health care in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of this week, UMMC was out of critical care beds, similar to all of the big hospitals in Mississippi.

“As of 6:46 am today, UMMC’s bed status is -31 beds, which means that 31 people are admitted but waiting for a bed to become available,” she wrote Wednesday in another tweet. “Who will be #32 or #33 or #34?”

Not all of those beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, but the growing influx of critically ill virus patients means there aren’t beds for people suffering in car crashes, from heart attacks, severe asthma and a host of other potentially life-threatening conditions.

“Those of us in health care are numb, frustrated and so very tired,” she wrote.

Woodward isn’t the only health care leader in Mississippi loudly ringing alarm bells to get people’s attention about the pandemic.

“Our hospitalizations are growing at a rate that is absolutely terrifying,” said State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs, who heads up the Mississippi State Health Department, in a media briefing Wednesday.

“Without a doubt, I think we’re headed into the darkest period of the coronavirus for Mississippi.”

Dobbs issued guidance Wednesday urging Mississippians against not to attend any unnecessary gatherings, including Christmas parties, just as he asked people to avoid large Thanksgiving celebrations. Other gatherings to avoid include family gatherings outside of the household or nuclear family, weddings, funerals (other than close family and preferably outdoors), sporting events and in-person church services.

Dobbs and State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said they are concerned that high school athletic activities are spreading the virus.

“Dr. Byers and I have long advocated for a delay or limitation on high school athletics, especially in situations where people can’t be socially distant and safe, and I think part of that is we’re paying the price for that right now,” Dobbs said.

The guidance from the nation’s top health care officials around the country mirror what Woodward, Dobbs and Byers have been advocating for months: Wear a mask in public. Avoid groups of people. Observe social distancing. Wash your hands. None of it is difficult and none of it is political, despite those who would have you believe otherwise. The same advice is coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins University and many more.

To date, Gov. Tate Reeves has not issued another statewide mask mandate, despite the urging of health officials. He remains convinced that his county-by-county piecemeal approach is more effective. As of Tuesday, 54 of Mississippi’s 82 counties are under restrictive measures due to their increased COVID-19 case counts. Those measures include mandates to wear masks in public and other social distancing orders.

“I am willing to take the political heat … because I believe in my heart and my mind that this is the best strategy to protect my fellow Mississippians,” Reeves said in an interview with WAPT Tuesday.

During the past week, Mississippi set records for one-day new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The seven-day average of new cases was over 1,600 Wednesday, exceeding the previous high set in July of 1,360. Many of Mississippi’s major hospitals have no more room in their ICUs. All of those increases are before the expected spike of new cases from Thanksgiving gatherings, which should begin to show up within the next week or two.

“We need to take responsibility for ourselves, because it’s so widespread right now, and we’re not seeing the community effort out there,” Dobbs said Tuesday. “I’m really asking you guys to protect yourselves.”

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Mississippi VA announces changes to its annual Wreaths Across America ceremonies

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(photo courtesy MSVA)

This year, both State Veterans Memorial Cemeteries at Newton and Kilmichael will host private ceremonies for families with loved ones buried at both locations. The events will be held Saturday, Dec. 19, at 11 a.m.

“We must do our part to ensure that we keep as many Veteran families as safe as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic, and unfortunately, that means cutting back on the number of attendees at this year’s events”, said Mississippi VA Executive Director Stacey Pickering in a statement. “However, we feel that it is important to honor our resting heroes and allow their families to spend quality time at these hallowed grounds.”

Close to 1,260 Veterans and their families have chosen the State Veterans Memorial Cemeteries as their final resting place. For more information on both State Veterans Memorial Cemeteries, click here.

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‘Check Your Charity’ helps you be an informed giver

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(Photo by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

Mississippians are known for their generosity, especially during the holiday season. During the last reporting year, Mississippi charities brought in roughly $1.7 billion. As we creep closer to Christmas, it’s important to remember the wisest giver is an informed giver. The annual “Check Your Charity” campaign encourages Mississippians to check the validity of a charity or organization on the secretary of state website before making a donation.

“Our Check Your Charity campaign aligns with one of our agency’s missions to make government more transparent,” said Secretary of State Michael Watson in a release. “We are committed to providing as much information as possible to shield Mississippians from scammers, not just during the holiday season but all year-round. This has been an incredibly challenging year for many families, and I am incredibly proud of the work our Charities Division is doing to protect Mississippians’ hard-earned money.”

All charitable organizations are required to register with the secretary of state’s office and renew yearly. Certain types of organizations are exempt from registration but are nevertheless required to file a notice of exemption with the secretary’s office.

Each year, the secretary’s office publishes a “Report on Charitable Organizations in Mississippi” to provide transparency and keep citizens informed of critical financial information regarding Mississippi charities. The annual report includes information such as total revenue, fundraising expenses and charitable purpose expenses.

Click here to view the 2020 Report on Charitable Organizations in Mississippi.

Mississippians should keep the following in mind when making decisions regarding charitable donations:

  • Check your charity. Use the “Charity Search” portal on the secretary of state website to verify the charity is registered with the State. Ask questions before giving and be sure to ask for answers in writing. Legitimate charities will always welcome your inquiries.
  • Avoid pressure tactics. You do not have to make a donation immediately; take time to evaluate the information provided by the charity.
  • Watch for similar names. Many charities have similar names. Often, scam artists intentionally use names resembling those of respected groups. Take a few extra minutes to research the charity online so you can be sure your donation goes to the right place.
  • Be wary of telephone calls. Always get the name of the person calling and the exact name and spelling of the charity. Ask if the caller is a professional fundraiser, and if they are, ask how much of your donation actually goes to the charity.
    • Consumer organizations recommend at least 65% of a charity’s total expenses be spent on program activities directly related to the charity’s purpose.
  • Verify mail solicitations. Be wary of mail containing novelty items you can keep “if you contribute.” Federal law states that unless you ordered the item, you can keep it without contributing.
  • Always get receipts. Receipts are vital for tax deductions and provide a tracking mechanism for donations. To be safe, always donate by credit card or check (directly to the charity).

Taking these extra steps will not only protect you, it will also ensure your donation goes to those who need it most. For more information, contact the Charities Division at 601-359-1599, or click here to send an email to one of the Charities team members.

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