September 1, 2014  

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Southern Miss, INFINITY Science Center Create Unique Partnership

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George Schloegel, left, chairman of INFINITY Science Center in Hancock County, and Dr. Gordon Cannon, vice provost for research at The University of Southern Mississippi, signed a memorandum of understanding partnering both institutions to allow for greater educational opportunities. (Southern Miss University Communications photo by Charmaine Schmermund)

Children and visitors of the INFINITY Science Center in Hancock County will benefit greatly from a new agreement between the science center and The University of Southern Mississippi.

On Friday, Feb. 15, a memorandum of understanding was signed by Dr. Gordon Cannon, vice provost for research at Southern Miss, and George Schloegel, chairman of INFINITY, partnering both institutions to allow for greater educational opportunities.

“Taking the science, mathematics and technical side of what we are doing at Stennis, in combination with our partnership with Southern Miss, we are going to touch a lot of lives,” said Schloegel. “By focusing on the classroom, this partnership creates the perfect marriage. With Southern Miss as our university in south Mississippi and Stennis’ location in south Mississippi, we are joined at the hip geographically and now we are joined at the hip through science and technology.”

As part of the agreement, Southern Miss will seek out grant funding to populate INFINITY, a $30 million state-of-the-art science center that opened in 2012, with additional interactive educational exhibits and to implement educational programming at the science center, such as teachers' workshops and K-16 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs. INFINITY is one of only nine NASA Visitors Centers in the country. 

Cannon describes the partnership as being a natural fit for the university and science center. “Having educators who have worked with INFINITY, as well as students at Stennis Space Center, there was a natural interaction when we started discussing how we could assist with educational programs. In addition to appealing to a younger audience, this also serves as a very broad educational opportunity for our faculty and students.”

One project is already underway between INFINITY and the university’s Business and Innovation Assistance Center. Using advanced technologies, researchers are using controlled environment agriculture to grow food using non-traditional methods. Currently, butterhead lettuce is being grown at INFINITY using no soil, 80-percent less water and no pesticides. Attendees for the MOU signing were served salads during lunch using lettuce harvested from the project.

“The interest from both institutions is the same,” said Fred Haise, Apollo 13 astronaut and vice-chairman of INFINITY. “In a smaller way, INFINITY Science Center is interested in education for children, who may be visiting on field trips or through different kinds of programs. Southern Miss, in a bigger way, has their mission focused on education. In this partnership with Southern Miss, we hope this sparks children’s interest in the right way and hopefully one day become students at Southern Miss.”

Representatives during the memorandum signing included Jack Blitch, INFINITY board member, Tish Williams, executive director of INFINITY, Linda McCarthy, general manager of INFINITY,  Ken Human, associate director of NASA Stennis Space Center, Joe Graben, director of the Southern Miss Business and Innovation Assistance Center, and teacher Connie Roth with her sixth grade science class from Bay-Waveland Middle School.

For more information about Southern Miss, visit www.usm.edu.