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Alumnus receives national award from federal agency

Kathryn Kao

December 8, 2017

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Ryan Akers (PhD '07), an associate extension professor in the School of Human Sciences at Mississippi State University and an alumnus of the College of Education’s department of counseling and human development services, recently received the 2017 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Individual and Community Preparedness Division’s national award for Outstanding Achievement in Youth Preparedness.

Akers received the award for his creation of and work with the Mississippi Youth Preparedness Initiative (MyPI) National, which is an innovative three-component leadership education and training program.

The model, which currently features eight participating states, actively engages teenagers of all socio-economic statuses, races and religions, as well as people with disabilities and those with access and functional needs.

“To have your work recognized by your peers is a testament to our vision and the hard work and dedication that my entire team puts in to accomplish our goals and mission,” said Akers, who won the same award in 2014 for a smaller-scale version of the model. “To win the award not once, but twice, is doubly gratifying.”

The model includes delivery of the Community Emergency Response Team curriculum; specialized technology tracks; career exploration; CPR/AED certification; disaster simulation participation; communication plans; and a capstone leadership project titled PREP + 6 that assists families in developing emergency supply kits.

Last month, all FEMA award winners presented a webinar highlighting various aspects of their programs, as well as unique challenges and opportunities. For his topic, Ayers discussed the importance of youth preparedness and how it ties into youth engagement, empowerment and leadership opportunities.

“I made it a point to drive home the need for continued funding opportunities for youth preparedness at the local, state and national levels,” he said. “I really just focused on the specifics of how we do what we do and gave a nod to the evaluative measures and service projects that are such a vital part of our program.”

Akers’ research focuses on campus emergency management protocols and how individuals and educational systems process traumatic events. His passion for working with youth, particularly teens and preteens, developed while he was an undergraduate student at Delta State University and eventually led to the development of MyPI National, for which he currently serves as the national project director.

“In this program, we engage our teens in individual, family and community preparedness efforts in an effort to get this relatively untapped resource to take ownership of their own preparedness,” said Akers. “We also want to empower them to become preparedness advocates in their own communities.”

The program, which will soon extend beyond the states with the inclusion of Guam, measures youth leadership characteristics, teamwork, communication, decision-making, family decision-making and cohesion, as well as typical pre- and post-measurements for content comprehension.