Desoto County News

Connect DeSoto ‘signs’ students with business internships

Photo: DeSoto County high school students who signed internship opportunities with local business and industry through the Connect DeSoto program. They will be involved in a 100-hour paid internship with the business partner in DeSoto County. (Bob Bakken/

Thursday was a “signing day” as 21 DeSoto County Schools students signed with local businesses and industry to be involved in the first paid internship program under a program called “Connect DeSoto.”

In Connect DeSoto, each high school in the district has a career coach who identifies students interested in exploring career paths after high school, and then makes a connection with a business or industry willing to work with the student to explore what might be possible in those careers.  

The career coach program was funded in the state Legislature through Accelerate Mississippi, which develops workforce strategies to help grow career opportunities and workforce development. 

The program last year received $8 million in funding from the state Legislature, a figure that grew to $12 million in this year’s session to help fund career coaches in each of the state’s high schools. 

Connect DeSoto is a partnership with Accelerate Mississippi, the DeSoto County Schools, and the DeSoto County Economic Development Council.  

Thursday’s program recognized the students who will be interning at their respective business location over 100 hours. They will get at least $10 an hour for their time and in some cases may receive even more, depending on the business.  

Similar to college athletic signing events, the students were celebrated by “signing” their internship agreement, in many cases, with representatives of the companies they will be working with.  

We spoke with Suzy Bowman with Accelerate Mississippi, Susan Fernandez of the DeSoto Council, and Mike Thomas of Teleflex, one of the companies participating in the intern program, to learn more about this. We’ve also listed the students from each school who received internships, and the career coaches at each high school.  

What is Connect DeSoto?

Susan Fernandez, DeSoto County Economic Council: It is a hands-on internship with business and industry for our high school juniors and seniors in DeSoto County Schools and they will get real-life experience in a career field of their choice. They will work 100 hours within their field and they will be paid at least $10 an hour. Some of our businesses are paying them additional funds, so we’re excited about it. This is the first time that it has happened.  

Where did the DeSoto Council come into play in making the connections?

Fernandez: We are able to work with our career coaches to identify business and industry partners for our career coaches and open those doors for them to the business and industry that the students were interested in.  There are a lot of our students who don’t realize the opportunities that are available within DeSoto County for them.

Can this program become a model for other parts of Mississippi? 

Fernandez: We are modeling our program like one already operating in New Albany, so we are hopeful that ours will be as successful as theirs has been.  We definitely have one of the most robust economies in the state, so we need to capitalize on that and show our students that there’s no need to go anywhere else.

What is your reaction to the Connect DeSoto signing event?

Suzy Bowman, Accelerate Mississippi: It’s such an exciting day. A lot of things had to happen to build up to this day and a lot of people had to say ‘yes.’ We’re really excited to see where these first students are 2-3 years down the road with these opportunities. 

What were the components that had to come together to make this happen?

Bowman: It started with the state Legislature funding the career coach as a statewide program through Accelerate Mississippi and through our local PDDs (Planning and Development District) who then applied for the funding. That was our Three Rivers Planning and Development who applied for the funding through Accelerate Mississippi to be able to manage the career coach program here in North Mississippi. 

What is the Three Rivers Planning and Development District?

Bowman: They have their hands in a lot of stuff. They deal with a lot of workforce. They cover 27 counties of workforce programming, training, and funding, so that’s how this partnership came about.  They took on the career coach program for all 27 counties in Northeast Mississippi. 

How important is it for this program to be working in DeSoto County?

Bowman: When the DeSoto Council came and met with me in New Albany a couple of years ago to see what our program looked like, they knew that this would work here. They just had to kind of know how we started it there in New Albany. I have so enjoyed working with Jim Flanagan and Susan Fernandez on this project. Once you had the career coaches in place you could see the program take flight, because you have to have coordinators. You have to have somebody in the building who is able to find the students, and then they go out and get those partnerships. We just helped in setting up the liability piece, the funding, source of it and it takes a lot of entities to make it happen. 

How can the success here be a model for other parts of the state?

Bowman: You have to have success first before people really value a best practice or a model that works. We’re looking at that from the Accelerate Mississippi side as we’re seeing that these pockets of models are working across the regions. We kind of look at that and expand across the state as it fits. You do have to have that business and industry that is willing to accept the student. Unfortunately a lot of our counties don’t have that. It can’t work everywhere but in certain areas it can definitely work.  

Talk about the importance of state Sen. Dr. David Parker helping get the funding for the program?

Bowman:  He really was instrumental. He’s passionate about this and works a lot with the DeSoto Council on a lot of things here in DeSoto County. He was passionate about this and he was able to be a voice for us in the Legislature that it absolutely needed to be funded statewide. He really pushed that and he made it happen. It went from $8 million the first year to $12 million this year.  

Why is Teleflex involved in the Connect DeSoto program?

Mike Thomas, Teleflex: This is a great opportunity to get folks when they’re young and at that age where they are deciding what to do, and to teach them, not only what we do, but to also show that there’s more than just a warehouse packing boxes. We get to show them the effect on the customer and the career progression. We have engineers, we have IT folks, we have accountants, we have finance folks, we have all kinds of folks that work in this industry. We can open it up to show that there’s more than just a square building that they walk by everyday.  

What will the student do at Teleflex?

Thomas:  The first thing they’ll do when they start is to follow a box through the process. How we receive, how we store, how we keep track of it and how we ship it. Then, they’ll take time to look at the different career progressions. We’ll have time set aside to meet with folks who started as a box packer and are now a supervisor. Then, we’ll move into the front office, where they will talk with HR professionals where they will talk about their career field, they’ll talk to the engineers about their career field, we’ll talk with finance folks, project managers, logistics folks, transportation folks, and learn what all there is to do in this field besides picking and packing boxes.  

Describe what Teleflex is all about.

Thomas: At Teleflex, we ship single-use medical devices. We like to say we ship devices that save folks’ lives. 

Students who received internships and signed with their corporate partners on Thursday are as follows: 

(Pictures of the students who participated in the intern signing event are found on the DeSoto County News Facebook page.)

Center Hill High School

  • Brittany Kirk
  • Preston Rice
  • Zahara Wright

DeSoto Central High School

  • Alena Headin
  • Kaelyn Holmes
  • Kyra Kelly
  • McKenzie Max

Hernando High School

  • Braden Smith
  • Jacqueline Lopez

Horn Lake High School

  • Angel Perez 
  • Eriny Jones
  • Trevelle Finney Jr. 

Lake Cormorant High School

  • Aiden Hendricks
  • Madison Leflore

Lewisburg High School

  • Grady Booth
  • Tiffany Anglin
  • Tamiya Freeman

Olive Branch High School

  • Roderick Watson
  • Savian Anthony

Southaven High School

  • Marilyn Jones
  • Kirsten Kelly

Following are the career coaches who worked with the students at their respective schools:  

Career Coaches

  • Varina Hopper – Center Hill
  • Avery Grace Basil – DeSoto Central
  • Jamie Moffit – Hernando
  • Robin Hennessee – Horn Lake
  • Jacob Vogelsong – Lake Cormorant
  • Laurie Waring – Lewisburg
  • Jerry “Chip” Gresham – Olive Branch
  • Michele Everson – Southaven 

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