June 23, 2015
Danielle McNamara
(510) 987-0230

Press Release


A year of hard work through hands-on learning landed two students from Dominguez High School in Compton, California as national champions of the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) National Engineering Design Competition.


Azucena Castro and Jennifer Barrientos, both recent graduates of Dominguez, represented California in the high school division at the national finals held in Ogden, Utah where they competed against teams from nine other MESA states from June 17-20.


The challenge required them to build a prosthetic arm that was tested in three tasks – distance accuracy, object relocation and dexterity – all while staying under a budget of $40. In addition to device performance, they wrote a technical paper, created an academic poster, and prepared an oral presentation.


Dominguez High MESA students are served by the MESA center housed at University of California Irvine Samueli School of Engineering. MESA serves educationally disadvantaged students in low-performing schools in California; ninety-three percent of Dominguez students received free or reduced meals.


The students spent the majority of the school year designing, creating and testing under the guidance of their MESA advisor, Mr. Emmanuel Ikeokonta. The young ladies won at preliminary, regional, and state competitions in California to advance to Utah. This was the first time that Dominguez HS reached this level, and is the first high school in the Compton Unified School District to win the national championship. It is also the fifth national title for the UC Irvine MESA program over the past ten years.


Azucena and Jennifer dedicated countless hours with an unwavering commitment to this challenge. They have been part of the UCI MESA program since elementary school, and fully embody the MESA mission. Azucena will continue her education at UC Berkeley studying Computer Science, while Jennifer has committed to UC Irvine and will be studying Biomedical Engineering.


MESA is one of the largest programs in California to support educationally disadvantaged students so they can graduate from college with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) degrees. MESA provides academic support and enrichment to more than 18,000 K-12 students and more than 7,800 community college and 4-year college students each year.


Most MESA students are economically disadvantaged, the first in their families to attend college and attend underperforming schools.


For more information about the students, contact UC Irvine MESA Director Marvin Maldonado at


For more information about MESA visit or on Twitter @MESASTEM.