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MESA Day tests math and science skills

March 27, 2008

MESA Day tests math and science skills

The voices of 400 elementary, middle and high school students bounced off the walls of Olson and Memorial gyms at the annual MESA Day competition.

Working in teams, the students built catapults from Dixie cups and plastic spoons, constructed sail cars from straws, pins and paper, and tested the sturdiness of bridges made from Popsicle sticks and glue. The daylong event also included the egg drop, trebuchet, math and speech competitions, and a campus-wide scavenger hunt.

Students worked on their projects throughout the year to prepare for Tuesday’s competition and showcase their efforts, said Brenda Tisdale, director of Tacoma’s MESA program. MESA is short for Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement.

Competitions like the catapult and egg drop required teams of students to build their project from a bag of supplies given at the event, while for other events, like the bridge design, students brought their constructed projects to the event. PLU faculty and staff judges tested the projects, recording the results in a passport around the students’ necks.

“It’s a hands-on experience for science learning,” Tisdale said. “They are learning the concepts and applying the theories. It gives them a deeper learning.”

At the opening ceremony, state Sen. Rosa Franklin ’74, D-29th District, stressed the importance of preparing students for careers in the math, science and engineering fields. The United States lacks the skilled workers for these fields and relies on workers from other countries to fill many of these positions, she said.

Franklin encouraged the students to continuing learning about math and science, despite the frustrations or roadblocks they may encounter. She also advised they take advantage of every opportunity to use their skills, such as the MESA Day event.

“I’m proud of MESA for what it’s doing for students,” Franklin said. “And you students should be proud of being a part of it.

“MESA is giving students the opportunity to pursue their dreams,” she continued.

MESA is a national organization that provides underrepresented students in grades four through 12 with opportunities in these three subjects. Typically, students from the African American, Native American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander and female populations are underrepresented in math, science and engineering fields, and the program prepares these students to reach their full potential and be active contributors in the fields.

Students from six South Puget Sound school districts participate in the program through after-school activities, classroom activities and interactions with role models, Tisdale explained. Role models include PLU students who visit MESA classrooms regularly and interact with students in the program.

Washington state’s MESA program includes four other offices across the state in Spokane, Yakima Valley/Tri-Cities, Vancouver and Seattle. A local university sponsors each program. The national organization, MESA USA, spans eight states and includes Oregon, California and Colorado.