Ask Aneita Gage how it felt to be the only black, female engineering student at San Diego State University in the mid 1980s, and she’ll declare a single word.
She had to prove to unsupportive professors that she was just as capable as other students and stayed positive through a network of other black and Latino engineering students in the MESA program. She looked up to a recent black, female SDSU engineering graduate and even rented a room in her home.
“If it wasn’t for that network and MESA,” she said, “I wouldn’t have finished.”
Much has changed for the black female experience since Aneita earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1987.
Media giant Oprah Winfrey debuted nationally in the 80s and became the first female African American billionaire, author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou recited her works during a 1993 presidential inauguration , the Williams sisters smashed the 2000’s stereotype of what a tennis player looks like, and America’s first black president served two terms in the 2010s, helping to bolster equal pay issues for women.
On the eve of 2017, book-turned-movie Hidden Figures, shared the largely unknown story of the black women who helped NASA win the space race. The film broke records in theaters, and renewed the conversation that despite many achievements, diversity in general — and in STEM fields in particular — there is still much work be done.
We all know STEM jobs are on the rise. Technology companies will need to fill more than 650,000 new jobs by next year alone.
And while more women than men are enrolled in all U.S. undergraduate programs today, just 18 percent of women earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering as recently as 2012. The number was even lower for Hispanics (8 percent) and for blacks (4 percent).
Claudia Agbassekou is determined to nudge that 4 percent upward.
Thirty years after Aneita completed her degree, Claudia — a second year electrical engineering major at Sacramento State University — has a similar story to tell.
Claudia said didn’t think of herself as a leader until MESA gave her a little boost of confidence and tools to succeed.
“I like being encouraged to achieve higher goals than what people assume for me…To prove myself as a woman engineer and push forward.”
“I don’t want to quit just because someone is discouraging me or doesn’t want to hear my voice,” she said.
MESA exists for Claudia and all MESA students to push forward and strive for greatness even through adversity — just like Aneita Gage.
Aneita’s path included masters degrees in business administration and industrial management from Rochester Institute of Technology, a successful 23-year career with Intel and the passion to give back to the program she credits as her source of strength.
“MESA represents a light,” she said. “The experiences, the support guided me to be the person I am now. The challenge still exists for those come after me, but I will always be grateful. “I will always support MESA because it should always shine through.”
Let’s continue to shine that light on students like Claudia: our future engineers, our future leaders. Our hidden figures.
Lupe Segura immigrated to the U.S, when she was 13 years old. A lack of English skills quickly diminished her self-confidence and left her struggling in her classes at the low-performing schools she attended in Oakland.
And, as the daughter of a housewife and a construction worker, she had no footsteps to follow on a road to higher education.
Yet, 22 years later, Lupe holds three degrees and is a Genentech engineer who works to get pharmaceutical clinical trials completed and drugs manufactured.
“How did I get here? MESA. One hundred percent.”
Lupe joined MESA shortly after moving to Oakland. She attended MESA summer immersion sessions at UC Berkeley for three years and said she learned more during those workshops than in an entire semester in school.
“Those summers made all the difference in the world to me. MESA created the opportunity for me to experience STEM and help me believe that I could go to college,” she said.
Lupe went on to become a Gates Millennium Scholar, earning a full ride to Berkeley as an industrial engineering and operations research major. She went on to obtain a master’s degree in industrial engineering from Berkeley and began working as an engineer at UPS.
Looking back, though, Lupe said the lessons she learned in MESA affected her life goals and led to a career change.
“We learned through MESA about the inequity in education and access; that there is a problem and that we can be a part of the solution. Putting these social issues in perspective made me realize I had the chance to make a difference.”
That perspective led Lupe to an interest in biotechnology and a master’s degree in public health. She wanted to help bring life-changing medicine to those who need it.
For Lupe, working with clinical trials and drug development at Genentech is a way to enable others to live more fulfilling lives and completes the circle of empowerment she gained from MESA.
“MESA does amazing things. There’s no other way to say it.”
Computer Science Education Week has come to an end, but this topic is much too important to embrace for just seven days. Everyone from President Obama to will.i.am knows the importance of coding and other computer science literacy, particularly for historically underserved students.
Here are some ways you can contribute to the growth of the #ComputerScienceForAll movement.
Get familiar with the challenge
Computer science and other STEM education are paramount to keeping our workforce productive, yet there is a shortage of qualified talent:
Support computer science education legislation
Governor Brown signed AB 2329 that plans for expansion of CS education for all public school students beginning as early as kindergarten. Nationally, more than 140,000 people have signed a Change.org petition asking Congress to provide similarly expanded public school CS curriculum
Get your code on
There are increasing resources for learning to code at all age levels and in many languages. For example, a partnership with Oracle Academy provides professional development training to MESA educators who teach coding in middle and high school.
Support STEM programs like MESA
Computer science literacy is a key tenant of MESA’s approach to creating the future technical workforce California and the nation need. Each year, MESA touches the lives of more than 27,000 students.
Most of those students are or will be the first in their families to attend college, and will go on to be the computer scientists, astronauts and engineers of the future. Find out how you can change the future of STEM today and contribute to computer science education for all movement.
“It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.” ~Tom Brokaw
Recently, STEM professionals exemplified this aphorism wholeheartedly by making a difference in the lives of more than 200 first-generation college students.
The 2016 MESA Student Leadership Conference provided students a unique opportunity to engage with professionals from 28 companies and organizations. Interactions ranged from informal gatherings to team-building competitions and career preparation workshops, all geared toward providing students with the 21st century skills they need to succeed.
A highlight of the conference for students and industry alike are the mock interviews. Dozens of representatives from a variety of select companies readily sacrificed their Saturday to consult one-on-one with MESA students, practicing and refining interview techniques and strategies. Mock interviewers represented the following organizations:
Students gave a resounding thumbs up to the chance to interact with professionals working in the same fields they are diligently studying.
“I love that we got an opportunity to meet with so many professionals,” one student said. “The mock interviews were really enjoyable and relate-able to what will be expected in future interviews.”
The willingness of these professionals to invest in the success of our future STEM leaders was not lost on our students. They clearly embraced the experience and exhibited their gratitude through firm hands shakes, excited applause and a flood of LinkedIn connection requests.
Here at MESA we’d like to continue that show of gratitude to the volunteers. You made a difference.