Armed with scientific experiments and information about everything from robotics to aerodynamics, UMR leaders are preparing to encourage more St. Louis area students to develop an interest in engineering, thanks to the university’s involvement with the Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) program.
In 2002, MESA USA forged a partnership between UMR and the Normandy School District in St. Louis. In order to enhance the program, MESA recently received part of a $40,000 grant from Aloca for the Minority Engineering Program (MEP) and Women in Engineering and Science (WIES) programs at UMR.
Since 1970, the MESA program has encouraged under-represented students to pursue careers in engineering and science studies. Eleven states participate in this program, and Missouri is the most recent state to sign on. On the UMR campus, MESA is under the leadership of Floyd Harris, director of UMR’s MEP and WIES programs. According to Harris, the expansion of MESA to Missouri has already made a big impact in the lives of students and teachers.
"This program definitely touches many lives and impacts many families," says Christian Washington of St. Louis, a senior in electrical engineering at UMR and a Normandy High School graduate who assists with the program. "Students who thought attending college was only a dream will now view it as reality."
"MESA is fueled off the passion of the advisors and of Mr. Harris," Washington adds. "It’s a great combination."
While Harris and the MEP staff were responsible for the original proposal that brought UMR and Normandy School District together for the MESA program, educators at Normandy High School have played a big role in allowing this innovative program to grow during its first year of implementation.
"The teachers serve as the program advisors," Washington explains, "and they truly go beyond their call of duty. Each advisor takes a special interest in the students, investing as much time as they can to the program."
Francis Mack, the St. Louis region coordinator and immediate liaison between the school district and UMR, had faith from the beginning that these advisors would cause the program to be fruitful.
"By all accounts, the initial year has been quite successful," Mack says. "Advisors have indicated that a number of students became re-energized to commit to improving their academic success. A number of them also became more focused on preparing for college study as engineers or applied scientists."
Mack considers the first key to the program’s success to be the networking laid by Harris, as well as the "outstanding work of MESA section advisors" to prepare activities, recruit and mentor students and keep the enthusiasm for the program at a consistently high level.
Mack believes that while the strength of individuals will keep the program strong, the availability of funding will pose the greatest challenge in the future.
"Most MESA states rely heavily on state funding," Mack says. "As state funds are reduced, solicitation of corporate and private commitments will require a fair amount of effort. MESA executives stress the importance of interacting with legislative officials at all levels to encourage public funding support for educational programs such as this one."
Though it will be another year until grade point averages and test scores can really be assessed, the academic experiences, mentoring, tutoring and special opportunities that are offered through MESA are giving Normandy students a platform to learn and shine.