Bringing STEM opportunities to students from across Arizona
MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement) is a national STEM organization seeking to provide high-quality educational opportunities to disadvantaged students. MESA partners with businesses and educational institutions to expand their capability to provide meaningful experiences to underrepresented groups.
Sponsoring engineering design challenges
For the 2019–2020 academic year, Microsoft donated $20,000 to the University of Arizona’s Office of Early Academic Outreach (EAO) to benefit Arizona MESA. The funding will be used to expand programming, support existing career development programs, and host the 2020 MESA USA National Engineering Design Challenge (NEDC). Microsoft has previously been involved with Arizona MESA and the annual MESA Day competitions, in which teams of middle and high school students compete in design challenges. The 2019 challenges included: Arduino-based solutions for humans, cargo bottle rockets, paper and tape canoes, a computer science scavenger hunt, additive manufacturing, on-site design, PVC pipe bridges, Quantum Energy and Sustainable Solar Technologies (QESST) solar cars, and an “it’s complicated” contraption.
Partnering with a nationally recognized STEM program
MESA has a nationwide presence in over 350 school districts (comprised of 1,400 middle and high schools), with 49,000 student members and over 1,100 teachers involved. MESA groups exist in Arizona, California, Maryland, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Washington. These organizations provide support via classes, hands-on competitions, counseling, and a community environment for students, starting in middle school. MESA’s resources are directed primarily to underserved populations, and most MESA students are the first in their families to attend college. Most are low-income and attend (or have attended) low-performing schools with few resources.
In Arizona, MESA is facilitated through the Office of Early Academic Outreach at the University of Arizona. Grand Canyon University’s Strategic Educational Alliances collaborates with Arizona MESA to support MESA in the Phoenix metropolitan area. Arizona MESA serves approximately 60 middle and high schools across the state, with most schools in the Tucson and Phoenix metro areas. Other areas served include Nogales, Sells, Eager, and St. Michael’s on the Navajo Nation.
Arizona MESA’s approach is comprised of four pillars: active learning, exposure to STEM, college readiness activities, and peer support. Active learning includes hands-on activities and project-based learning in a team setting to practice collaborative problem solving and other valuable skills. Exposure to STEM happens through college and career mentorship (including with major industry partners like GM and Raytheon), campus events, and the previously referenced MESA Day design challenges. College readiness provides resources to students and parents alike, including scholarship information and useful videos in both Spanish and English. Peer support takes place in college-minded groups that support and encourage each other on the path to continuing education.
Encouraging college readiness through access to STEM education and events
While Arizona MESA already has a significant presence in southern Arizona (in part due to proximity to the University of Arizona), there was need to reach schools across an expanded geographic area. Through the Arizona MESA and Microsoft partnership, programming will be expanded into northern parts of Arizona not currently served. Creating a partnership with Grand Canyon University allows Microsoft to maximize its investment across the state while giving Arizona MESA a foothold in an area that’s currently unserved by the program. Ten new middle and high schools will be served by this expanded engagement, including over 200 students, many of them Native American.
Microsoft will also help enhance existing programs locally and regionally through statewide professional development programming and kits that expand schools’ abilities to support academic and career exploration into STEM fields. Lastly, Arizona MESA will gain recognition as the host of the 2020 MESA USA NEDC; this event propels MESA chapters to continually innovate on services provided to groups typically underrepresented in STEM. All of these efforts support EAO’s mission to increase the number of low-income, underrepresented, and first-generation college students that aspire toward university enrollment.