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March 4, 2002


MESA program and director honored for innovation

By Kristin Cobb

The California Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program, a statewide program with an academic support center at UCSC has been named one of the five most innovative public programs in the country.

photo of MESA students
MESA Day, hosted by UCSC in 1999, featured academic competitions, including an egg drop contest. In this photo, students unwrap their container in front of a judge to see how many eggs survived the drop from a hot-air balloon.
Photo: Tim Stephens
In addition, the director of UCSC's MESA Schools Program, Antonio Garcia, was honored individually for his innovative work on a new MESA initiative. These recent honors highlight the remarkable success of the MESA program, established in 1970 to help educationally disadvantaged students in California to succeed in math, science, and engineering and to prepare for college admission.

MESA serves 35,000 students in California and is a model for similar programs in seven other states. The program helps students prepare for math-based majors at four-year universities. Around 85 percent of high school seniors who participate in MESA go on to college--a much higher rate than the state average of 50 percent. MESA students account for 90 percent of the state's engineering degree recipients from underrepresented groups and 12 percent of the nation's.

The MESA program was selected from among 1,200 nominees to receive the Innovations in American Government award, presented on December 13, 2001, in Washington, D.C. The Innovations in American Government awards recognize five programs annually for excellence and creative problem solving in government. The $100,000 awards are granted by the Institute for Government Innovation at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, the Ford Foundation, and the Council for Excellence in Government. Governor Gray Davis nominated MESA for the award.

"This award has given us a high visibility in the country this year. It has also helped to reinforce the commitment and investment of local industries and to grab the attention of local school districts," Garcia said.

Garcia himself was honored at the annual Professional Agricultural Workers Conference on December 3 at Tuskegee University in Alabama. He was invited to speak at the conference about the MESA Agricultural Initiative, and was nominated for Tuskegee's George Washington Carver Hall of Fame. Garcia helped found the MESA Agricultural Initiative, which encourages middle and high school students to excel in agricultural-based sciences, which are particularly important to California.

"The MESA Agricultural Initiative is a new direction within MESA," Garcia said. "It's consistent with our effort to reach out to the rural communities in California."

UC oversees the MESA program, which is a partnership between the university and California State University campuses, private universities, community colleges, public schools, education centers, and private industry. The MESA Schools Program at UCSC supports middle and high school students by establishing MESA clubs or electives in rural communities such as Castroville and San Lucas.

"We plant the seed of a college education in the minds of youngsters who have not really considered it, and we make it fashionable to be an achiever," Garcia said.

MESA Schools Program enrichment activities include extensive use of hands-on projects, a schedule of popular special events and field trips, campus tours, leadership conferences, workshops, and summer enrichment. MESA students receive academic advising and college prep and admission information. The MESA Schools Program hires UCSC students to be role models and study-group leaders.

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