Sutherland Helps Students Soar to New Heights as CHS Career Coach
JACKSON, MS – Helping Columbus High School students challenge themselves to achieve goals they didn’t think were possible has been the most rewarding aspect of Jim Sutherland’s job as a career coach for AccelerateMS, the state’s lead workforce development agency.
“Students need to believe in themselves and have a can-do mentality,” Sutherland said. “The best part is seeing their dreams come to fruition, whether it’s getting accepted into college, going after a career certification, finding a job position they want, or obtaining a scholarship they thought they wouldn’t get. Encouragement and motivation are key.”
Sutherland is one of more than 180 AccelerateMS career coaches helping high school students find successful paths into the workforce. AccelerateMS supports strategies to connect Mississippians with transformative, high-paying careers and launched the career coaching initiative in 2022 to assist students enrolled in career and technical education programs.
Sutherland works with students in the Columbus Municipal School District’s McKellar Technology Center, which offers programs in automotive services, carpentry, collision repair, culinary arts, digital media, early childhood education, engineering and robotics, law and public safety, and medical technology.
Students are more likely to excel in programs that appeal to their interests and aptitudes. Career coaches help students define their goals for the future and map out a plan to achieve them. They also connect students with local employers through job shadowing, career fairs, field trips, and other activities to raise awareness about the growing demand for skilled workers.
Sutherland recounted a situation in which job shadowing was pivotal for a student who wasn’t sure about his career path but had expressed an interest in teaching.
“I set it up for him to job shadow a teacher at a local elementary school, and it was a great success,” Sutherland said. “He started out wanting to be a nurse but soon figured out that wasn’t the path he wanted to pursue, thanks to CTE classes and job shadowing.”
Career coaches also help students find outside-of-the-box routes to career goals that might seem out of reach, which was the case for a CHS junior interested in aerospace studies. Sutherland explained that the Air Force Junior ROTC program would expand his knowledge of aerospace, and that participation was not contingent on enlisting in the military.
A few weeks after joining, the student and two fellow AFJROTC cadets were aboard a Civil Air Patrol flight in a Cessna 172 airplane.
“It was the first time any of them had experienced flight firsthand,” Sutherland said. “The pilots also showed them how to fly and land the plane. He was so stoked about the experience!”
The child of a military serviceman, Sutherland and his family moved frequently when he was young, eventually settling in Texas. After graduating from high school, he was accepted into The Citadel and majored in political science. He later served with the 255th Air National Guard.
After a long career in the securities and investments industry, Sutherland served as director of the Lowndes County Department of Human Services and worked for the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi.
“Those experiences prepared me for where I am now as a career coach,” he said. “I’m thrilled by the level of achievement I’ve seen in this year’s senior class. Students are aiming for outstanding careers in medicine, law, education and other professions. These students will be leading Columbus one day, so it’s our responsibility to instill good character qualities in their lives now. Leadership is everything.”
AccelerateMS serves the people and businesses of Mississippi by developing and deploying workforce strategies to connect individuals with transformative, high-paying careers. By leveraging resources and partnering with organizations that hold complementary missions, AccelerateMS effectuates positive change, creating sustained individual, community and statewide economic prosperity.