The Future Starts with MESA

By Saeri Plagmann, Features Editor

Reaching an all-time high of 49 members this year, the Kennedy MESA program basked in their glory after five students placed at the MESA Day preliminaries held at UC Davis in March, making it to the regional competition on April 28 at California State University, East Bay.

Kennedy Students (L to R) Leeann Lee and Victoria Chen stand with UC Davis MESA director and statewide executive director after they take first place at the MESA regional competition on April 28. Photo courtesy JFKennedy HS

Of the five Kennedy students, junior pair Leeann Lee and Victoria Chen earned first place honors at regionals with their “Think Tank” idea of a solar panel car made out of recyclable materials. “We did not go in thinking that we would possibly win anything,” admits Lee, who, with her partner, went against 400 other middle school and high school students from all over Sacramento at the preliminaries. The MESA program, now at 40 years, has been giving students the opportunity to create projects that utilize math, engineering, and science skills. MESA Days are held every year to test these skills and to get students to compete in various challenges, such as the prosthetic arm, egg drop, and balsa wood airplanes and gliders. This year, Kennedy juniors Aldo Gonzalez-Ruiz, Xiao dong Lin, and Ricky Ho made it to regionals alongside their first place teammates by constructing a bridge out of balsa wood, although they did not win.

The program at Kennedy has never been so successful; mentoring these students is advisor and science teacher, Yasmin Henry, who took over for Pete Juarez, Kennedy’s retired MESA advisor and science teacher. Henry feels the program to be getting better every year since she took over, and hopes to make it an elective class next year.

“We may have a 7th period. We’re trying to work out something where we have kids that actually take an elective class so they can actually work on their projects every day and get credit for it,” she says. The only problem is the funding cut by the school district, where teachers are no longer paid for advising the program. Henry, however, is determined to keep it alive. “I personally still like the program and I’ll still run it because I’ve been involved with it now for 10 years. I believe in the program,” she says.

Math, engineering, and science are topics that many people feel to be difficult. Even in the program students find themselves easily bored or frustrated. To improve the program for next year Henry hopes to make it more engaging for students. “I want to make it fun and let students know that it’s okay to fail. The first airplane didn’t work either, the first car didn’t work either, so you have to keep making prototypes and improvements. It’s okay to do that and that’s what engineering’s all about,” she says.

Lee and Chen also faced the same problem, with the most difficult part of their solar panel car being that they had no experience with engineering whatsoever. The number of setbacks they experienced before finally coming to a working model was the source for much of their discouragement. But, after constant encouragement from their peers and teachers, both felt they were inspired to go into a profession that uses the skills they learned through MESA.

Anyone in the program will know that nothing turns out correct on the first try, but it is the failures that are endured that make the final working project all the more rewarding and meaningful. Students truly get to understand what it means to “not give up”, as Chen says, which will go on to be an essential life skill for anyone.


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