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All-female Compton team wins big

June 22, 2015 | Danielle McNamara

Years of hands-on learning paid off for Dominguez High School graduates Azucena Castro and Jennifer Barrientos when they were named the 2015 MESA USA National Engineering Design Challenge champions.


On June 17-20, Azucena and Jennifer 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. 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.


Under the guidance of their MESA advisor, Mr. Emmanuel Ikeokonta, the young ladies had to win at preliminary, regional, and state competitions in California to advance to Utah. This was the first time that Dominguez High School reached this level, and is the first high school in Compton Unified School District to win the national championship.


The prosthetic arm challenge is a part of MESA Days — yearly hands-on engineering competitions that are a core piece of MESA’s 45 years of success. The competitions are grade-specific, continually updated and reinforce California State Board of Education math and science standards. MESA Days give educationally disadvantaged students exposure to STEM and STEM careers.


For Azucena and Jennifer, who have been a part of the UC Irvine MESA program since elementary school, MESA and its mission have paid off. Azucena is continuing her education at UC Berkeley studying Computer Science this fall, while Jennifer has committed to UC Irvine and will be studying Biomedical Engineering.

Hands-on STEM success

June 2, 2015 | Danielle McNamara

Hands-on learning and project-based learning have become buzz terms in the STEM education world recently. But MESA students have been using the math and science concepts they learn in the classroom to create engineering projects for decades. 


MESA Days — yearly hands-on engineering competitions — are a core piece of MESA’s 45 years of success. The competitions are grade-specific, continually updated and reinforce California State Board of Education math and science standards. MESA Days give educationally disadvantaged students exposure to STEM and STEM careers.


Students spend the good part of the school year designing, testing and competing in preliminary, regional and state competitions before the top middle and high school teams from California are named. Those state champs move on to the MESA National Engineering Design Competition this month. Teams of students create a prosthetic arm that will complete a series of tasks. 


This year’s high school state champs are 12th graders Azucena Castro and Jennifer Barrientos of Dominguez High School in Compton Unified School District. The middle school winners are eighth graders Alexa Habacon, Jade Lumada and Cohan Manzon from Hudson Middle School in Long Beach Unified School District.


The MESA National Engineering Design Competition will be held June 17-20 at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.

California’s future leaders

May 20, 2015 | Danielle McNamara

During a day and a half, students learned how laws are formed, how to advocate for an organization, how to be a leader and visited the California capital to meet with legislators.


This jam-packed 36 hours is the Student Leadership Conference (SLF). The event brings 90 students from MESA, Early Academic Outreach Program (EAOP) and the Puente Project together. This year was the 10th anniversary of the event. 


State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson recognized students attending the forum at the Embassy Suites on May 12. Assemblyman Jose Medina also spoke to students and presented an Assembly Resolution of 10 years of leadership development through the SLF.


University of California Office of the President (UCOP) Vice Provost and Chief Outreach Officer Yvette Gullatt also addressed students during the conference. The UCOP Department of Diversity and Engagement sponsors the forum and administers EAOP, MESA and Puente.


The two-day event provides leadership workshops for students with top government relations professionals, team building and an evening ceremony with legislators on May 12. Students then put their training to use May 13 during scheduled visits with legislators at the State Capitol.


EAOP, MESA and Puente serve more than 70,000 middle school, high school, community college and university level students across California who are from underrepresented populations, from low-performing schools and/or first generation college students.


Project-based learning is MESA’s specialty

February 19, 2015 | Danielle McNamara

Most middle and high schools are well under way in the second half of the school year and for MESA students that means one thing – MESA Day projects. Competing in these projects are a key component of the MESA model for pre-college students.


Prosthetic arms, mousetrap cars, egg drops, gliders – the list goes on. Students learn to understand design principles, implement problem-solving techniques, work in teams and tackle other STEM topics that help them to think like engineers. It’s a way to link the core math and science concepts taught in the classroom with real world applications.


Oh and it’s fun too. Winning students and team move on from local competitions to regional, statewide and sometimes national contests.


MESA directors and teachers create stringent curriculum aligned with Common Core and the California Next Generation Science Standards.


And it works. Time and again, MESA alumna, now successful STEM professionals say MESA Day projects bridged the gap between rote learning and practical learning. It’s the “ah-ha” moment for students.