Federal Grant Enhances Colorado MESA Partnership With CU-Boulder To Benefit Underrepresented Students

October 30, 2007

A recent $350,000 grant from the Denver Economic Development Corp. is supporting new Math, Engineering and Science Achievement Centers at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Colorado State University, along with a cadre of college student mentors who are working directly with students in MESA after-school programs at Colorado elementary, middle and high schools.

The grant, called "Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development," is part of a U.S. Department of Labor program aimed at enhancing access to higher education and building a larger pipeline of workers for the state's aerospace, biosciences, information technology and energy industries.

The grant will be at work Nov. 1 and Nov. 2 when CU-Boulder hosts the annual MESA Fall Fling, showcasing college and career opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math to about 250 of the state's underrepresented high school students. The students will come to campus from 23 high schools throughout the state.

The event, co-sponsored by the Multicultural Engineering Program and Women in Engineering Program at CU-Boulder, is the highlight of the year for many MESA students and features hands-on activities such as building and racing boats to designing and testing medieval siege machines, called trebuchets.

"Our mission is to help underrepresented youth realize that they can achieve anything," said Michele Towers, director of the new MESA Center at CU-Boulder. "There are so many things fighting against our kids that they don't see the abilities they have within themselves. Our goal is to expose students to an environment where they can achieve their dreams, as well as fill up Colorado's technology pipeline with students from every demographic group."

Towers, who started her MESA position at CU-Boulder in September, is an engineer with 22 years of experience working in the oil and gas, aerospace and telecommunications industries. She will coordinate programs such as the Fall Fling, now in its seventh year at CU-Boulder, while also overseeing student mentors from the campus working with MESA after-school programs at area high schools.

"We have nearly 30 CU-Boulder students already assigned to schools and we are recruiting for more," Towers said. "A lot of the students in the Multicultural Engineering Program are excited about this and really want to help. The only challenge we're having is to arrange transportation for the ones who want to participate but don't have cars."

Students in CU-Boulder's Multicultural Engineering Program and Women in Engineering Program also are assisting with the Fall Fling by escorting students to activities and judging the competitions. Winners of the trebuchet competition will go on to compete in MESA's national trebuchet competition in Baltimore in June 2008.

The Colorado MESA program has been in existence for more than 27 years and has grown from three schools in 1980 to more than 160 in 2007. Last year more than 3,200 students participated in the program, and slightly more than 50 percent were from ethnic groups currently underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

"The MESA model works," said executive director Gloria Nelson. "More than 90 percent of our grads matriculate with CU as their top choice of colleges."

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