SMPDD Hires Career Coach for Hancock High School

December 19, 2023

KILN, MISS: Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District (SMPDD) has hired Vanessa Chatelain as the new career coach for Hancock High School. As a career coach, Chatelain will assist seniors in their post-graduation plans.


The career coach initiative is a statewide effort to help create paths into the workforce. In 2022, $8 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) was funded in the legislative session. This funding facilitated the hiring of over 100 career coaches across the state. In conjunction with the ARPA funds, the state contributed an extra $12 million for the support of career coaches. This supplementary funding further fueled the expansion of the initiative in 2023 and grew to 177 career coaches in 115 school districts across Mississippi.


Guided by AccelerateMS, six regional development organizations were granted funds to hire and place career coaches in school districts within their areas. SMPDD is one among the six organizations that secured a grant to hire career coaches, showing their commitment to enhancing educational and career opportunities.

In her role as career coach Chatelain will play a pivotal part in connecting with seniors at Hancock High School, assisting them in navigating their paths beyond graduation. Drawing on her personal connection to the district as a parent, she expressed, "Both of my kids attended Hancock County Schools. The district does a great job of getting students to graduation and helping them get ready for life after high school. I am here to make sure the students are clear on their plans and connect them to resources to help them get there. I look at it as a math problem. If they know what result they want, I can help them figure out what they need to add, take away or change to get there. If they don't know what they want, we work together to figure it out."


Career coaches statewide play a crucial role in fostering connections between communities and schools. They support students by establishing links with industry and business leaders and facilitating various opportunities, including part-time employment, internships, as well as mentoring and job-shadowing programs. Additionally, these coaches specialize in guiding seniors who may not have concrete post-graduation plans. Coaches engage in one-on-one meetings with students to assess their academic and career objectives.


“Southern Mississippi Planning and Development District appreciates the support and a long-standing partnership with the Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission and the Hancock County School District. With the addition of Vanessa Chatelain as the career coach at the high school, we add yet another opportunity to enhance our impact on the Hancock County communities”.  - Natalia Diaz, Project Manager


The presence of a career coach at Hancock High School will further contribute to the enhancement of workforce development in Hancock County. Career coaches like Chatelain continue to play a huge role in building bridges between communities, schools, and industry leaders, while also fostering valuable opportunities and connections between students.




The Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission was established in 1963 to lead the county’s economic development activities. Stennis International Airport and Port Bienville Industrial Park are home to 30 companies with more than 1,000 employees. For more information visit