Posted by Danielle McNamara, Communications Coordinator, Diversity and Engagement – MESA, UCOP. Hands-on learning and project-based learning have become buzz terms in the STEM education world recently. But students involved in the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program have been using the math and science concepts they learn in the classroom to create engineering projects for decades.
MESA is an academic preparation and enrichment program that is administered by the University of California Office of the President. It serves more than 27,000 middle school, high school, community college and university level students across California. MESA’s goal is to get low income and first generation college-going students interested in STEM and earn degrees in those fields.
A core piece of MESA’s success is yearly hands-on engineering competitions called MESA Days. 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.
And it works. Time and again, MESA alumni, now successful STEM professionals say MESA Day projects bridged the gap between rote learning and practical learning of engineering concepts. It’s the “ah-ha” moment for students.
MESA’s digital literacy curriculum has also been a key component of the program’s model of success for serving educationally disadvantaged students.
MESA collaborates with numerous companies including SparkFun, Nvidia, Google and Oracle to support and provide teacher training, hardware and software. MESA’s digital literacy efforts introduce and advance the knowledge and proficiency of underserved middle and high school students to prepare them for the rigorous degree programs in STEM majors.
For instance, students will use their coding skills this school year in hands-on competition to build a functioning prosthetic arm with a robotic component within a $80 budget. This project tasks students to use what they learn in the classroom in real-world, problem-solving situations. MESA also holds a virtual coding competition for middle and high school students using the programming tools.