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An investment in the future of high tech

When David Davenport was in high school, he discovered something that changed his life: he was good at math and science and enjoyed using them to solve real-world problems. 

This insight came as a result of participating in Colorado MESA (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement) . Now an IBM engineer, David also became chairperson for the Denver chapter of National Society of Black Engineers.

If Colorado is to maintain its high-tech edge, it needs a properly trained and motivated work force prepared to pursue the passionate purpose of innovation creation. What people, employers, and the state need are MESAs-programs which encourage students to reach their potential in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Education and support are the answers.

Colorado MESA is a state-wide pre-college program that provides after school math- and science-based learning activities to over 3,600 pre-K-12 students(in 2009), more than 78 percent of whom are from ethnic and gender groups that are underrepresented in engineering career fields.

Founded in 1980 as a part of the non-profit Colorado Minorities Engineering Association (CMEA), MESA's mission is to increase the numbers of economically disadvantaged and at risk students who graduate from high school fully prepared for post secondary education in math- and science-based fields.

MESA after-school programs engage students in hands-on inquiry based projects such as designing mousetrap-powered vehicles, wind turbines and robots. MESA advisors, usually math/science teachers along with university student mentors and practicing engineers, help students discover relevant math/science principles necessary to achieve success with their project. Local, state, and national engineering-based competitions provide additional motivation to keep students involved.

The state MESA office at the University of Colorado Denver provides advisor training, program materials, and academic resources. MESA Centers at CU and CSU in provide stimulating project-based curriculum, career speakers and roles models. Field trips to business sites, colleges, science fairs, and engineering-based competitions excite students about career opportunities. Parents are critical supporters.

MESA works with 156 schools in 24 school districts throughout the state in collaboration with eight universities/colleges. Michele Towers, MESA Center Director at CU-Boulder (michele.towers@cudenver.edu), supports Boulder, Jefferson, Denver and Arapahoe counties. The CSU Center in Fort Collins oversees northern Colorado including Larimer, Weld and Adams counties.

While MESA has taken root in Longmont and other Weld County communities, more schools can participate. For example, programs exist at Angevine Middle in Boulder, Centaurus High in Lafayette and Broomfield High. Boulder County needs champions to start more programs.

Companies sponsor MESA because they want to hire a qualified high-tech workforce. Matthew Smith, an executive from United Launch Alliance (www.ulalaunch.com) a MESA sponsor, said, "The average age of the United Launch Alliance workforce today is 47. As more of our workers retire over the next 10 years, we need qualified graduates."

Colorado MESA currently receives no state funding. Support comes from community and corporate organizations such as the Denver Foundation, Lockheed Martin, the Daniels Fund, Xcel Energy, Ball Aerospace, Northrop Grumman, and others.

At a time when Colorado needs a highly-skilled, technical workforce, MESA allows qualified students to enter the workforce pipeline and it does it for under $125 per student per year.

All of MESA seniors graduate from high school, and historically, more than 90 percent have enrolled in college -- more than 80 enrolling in a math/science related major. About 85 percent of MESA students are from families in the low-to-moderate income bracket. About half are from ethnic groups underrepresented in math-based careers.

"Every experience and memory I got from the MESA club will always live with me. I owe a lot to the MESA club," says Ernesto Chairez, who graduated from Career Education Center in Longmont. He now attends CU- Boulder as an Aerospace Engineering major. 

How You Can Get Involved?

• Help the kids in your life learn to love mathematics and science.
• Ask your schools to sponsor a MESA program.
• Volunteer, make a donation, become a sponsor, create an internship or scholarship.
• Become a sponsor or volunteer for the October 15-16 MESA Fall Fling at CSU-Fort Collins. Around 250 MESA high school students will taste university life, gain valuable academic, financial aid, and career information, and participate in Boat Building and Wind Energy engineering competitions. Learn more at http://www.cmesa.org/.

Do you have MESA in your business or life? Like David Davenport, who continues to champion multicultural engineering programs, support MESA and help build a stronger high-tech workforce.

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Theresa M. Szczurek

Theresa M. Szczurek, Ph.D., co-founder and CEO of Radish Systems, is a serial technology entrepreneur. The story of her last start-up, which sold for more than $40 million in less than six years, is included, along with her strategies for success, in the Amazon-bestseller Pursuit of Passionate Purpose: Success Strategies for a Rewarding Personal and Business Life. www.RadishSystems.com, www.radishsprouts.typepad.com and @TheresaSzczurek on twitter.

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