A new era of innovation and partnerships is on the horizon as Alcorn State University celebrated the grand opening of the Mississippi Center for Innovation and Technology (MCITy) last week in downtown Vicksburg.

Housed in the historic Mississippi Hardware Building, Alcorn launched three of its latest technology and innovation Centers — the Center for Drone and Advanced Technologies, the Center for Data Analytics and Informatics, and the SMART Asset Integrity Lab.

“The grand opening of MCITy was a great day for Alcorn, as our institution’s participation in this event marked a significant milestone in our research activity,” said Dr. Tracy M. Cook, president. “It provided a platform for Alcorn to demonstrate its commitment to innovation, collaboration, and the pursuit of groundbreaking research. The involvement of our faculty, staff, and students in this event highlights the expertise at Alcorn. This collaboration has the potential to boost our research efforts, foster interdisciplinary collaborations, and contribute to the advancement of knowledge in various fields.”

In a dash to enhance Mississippi’s competition in the high-tech race, MCITy was created to train the state’s workforce, serve as a resource for high-tech entrepreneurs, and synergize its efforts for high-tech economic development.

According to MCITy, Mississippi has a low percentage of its workforce in high-tech positions, only 2%. This is the lowest percentage compared to other states in the Southeastern United States. This indicates that Mississippi is being outcompeted in the high-tech economy, resulting in missed opportunities and corresponding salaries.

Mississippi Center for Innovation and Technology (MCITy) in Downtown Vicksburg

“The Centers at MCITy will serve as a hub for innovative research, cutting-edge technology, and entrepreneurial spirit,” said Alfred Galtney, director of Research and Sponsored Programs. “By providing our students and faculty access to advanced resources and collaboration spaces, we aim to cultivate an environment that encourages creativity, problem-solving, and interdisciplinary learning. This investment in our academic infrastructure will undoubtedly enhance the quality of education we offer and better prepare our graduates for the challenges of the 21st-century workforce.”

Alcorn’s College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences’ Center for Drone and Advanced Technologies aims to train Alcorn students, faculty, and clients with drone applications in soil and plant science.

According to the USDA, possible drone applications include conducting remote pest surveys, assessing plant health over wide areas, and collecting samples of seeds, grain, water, air, spores, and insects.

Drone technology can be used to assist farmers with determining diseases in crops.

The Center has several research projects addressing critical issues facing communities. These include “Harnessing Analytics for Success in Southwest Mississippi,” led by Dr. Kwabena Agyepong, The Systems Research Institute and Advanced Technologies Department faculty and staff, in collaboration with IBM, and sponsored by the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences.

“Exploring Non-Chemical Alternatives for Safe and Sustainable Weed Control” led by Dr. Erol Sarigul, in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and with support from the Department of Defense (DOD), Project XNHYU and the State of Euphoria.

“Wireless Battery Solutions for Small Businesses and Farms” by Dr. John Adjaye and The Systems Research Institute, partnering with Betaflix, Inc. and sponsored by USDA.

“Enhancing Radiation Detection through Silicon Carbide Detectors,” led by Dr. John Adjaye from the Advanced Technologies Department & The Systems Research Institute, receives support from the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, the Department of Energy (DOE)/National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and Radioactive Pollutants Monitoring in Southwest Mississippi, partnering with Entergy and the Department of Energy, and sponsored by Entergy, the Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration, and the University of Utah.

Alcorn students in the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences presented research during the MCITy Grand Opening.

“Virtual Reality STEAM Activities for High, Middle, and Elementary School Students” by Dr. Jermiah Billa, partnering with Betaflix, Inc., and the DOE. It is sponsored by Entergy, the DOE/NNSA, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

“As we move into the next generation of innovative technologies, the Center for Drone and Advanced Technologies at MCITy sees this as an opportunity to advance its efforts to meet this evolving world,” said Dr. Dexter Wakefield, interim dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences. “As we launch this facility, we desire that all involved will be able to imagine what this future looks like, dream about the possibilities, and soar to new heights. Artificial intelligence and the emergence of drone technology seek to provide limitless possibilities for small and disadvantaged farmers in Mississippi to adjust to the current technological advancement trends.”

The SMART Asset Integrity Lab is part of the College of Arts and Sciences and is a joint effort with Smartcorr System, Inc. in Chicago. Jay Liu, chief scientist, SmartCorr and endowed professor, and Calaway Tristan, student intern, are part of the lab’s team.

The lab provides services and workforce training on asset integrity for the oil & gas industry to use the “help of AI, Neural Networks, and Deep learning to speed up the data processing time from six months to a 20-day turn-around. The accuracy of the pipeline defects can be detected at 97%. We can detect all kinds of deformations, metal loss, or cracks in the pipeline with GIS data to identify the exact location of the problem,” said Dr. Hua-Jun Shawn Fan, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Physics.

From left, Dr. Hua-Jun Shawn Fan, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Physics, discusses the SMART Asset Lab with Dr. Babu Patlolla, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Mark Noel, Executive Action Officer, ERDC.

“The launch of our center marks a new chapter of possibilities and opportunities, and I look forward to the exciting journey of growth and success,” said Dr. Babu Patlolla, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “I want to commend Dr. Hua-Jun Shawn Fan, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Physics, for his innovative ideas and collaborations that made this joint venture possible at the College of Arts and Sciences.”

Dr. Babu George, professor of Management, and Dr. Randolph Trappey, associate professor of Management, will lead the School of Business’ new Center. According to the Center’s fact sheet, the Center for Data Analytics & Informatics (CDAI) mission is to help businesses leverage data-driven decision-making. Many companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, lack the in-house expertise or resources to fully utilize data’s potential. This leads to missed opportunities, less-informed decisions, and a potential competitive disadvantage. The Center aims to bridge these gaps by providing accessible training, expert consulting, and actionable insights to help businesses in Mississippi and beyond.

Business Dean Antwon Woods poses with students from the School of Business.

“It is an exhilarating moment to witness the unveiling of our new Center of Data Analytics and Informatics at the Thad Cochran Mississippi Center for Information Technology (MCITy),” said Dr. Antwon Woods, dean of the School of Business. “This is a leap towards creating an imperative space to instill analytical thinking among entrepreneurial leaders and a testament to our relentless commitment to fostering cutting-edge workforce developmental opportunities to benefit our community and the state of Mississippi.”

Galtney believes the Centers at MCITy “will play a crucial role in community and economic development.”

He continues, “By partnering with local businesses, organizations, and government agencies, we seek to create a dynamic ecosystem that promotes job creation, attracts new industries, and stimulates economic growth. “The facility will host workshops, seminars, and networking events that bring together thought leaders from various fields, fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing. These interactions will not only benefit our students and faculty but also contribute to the overall well-being and prosperity of the region.”