Building bridges to the future

Building bridges to the future

Cal State L.A.’s MESA Schools Program exposes area youth to engineering early on

Like dozens of other Los Angeles area high school students, Rene Carrillo ’08 says that he first found his path to college through engineering.

“That’s why I work in an office designing stuff, instead of in a warehouse moving boxes,” said Rene Carrillo, a civil engineer at the firm JL Patterson and Associates in Orange County.

Carrillo was a high school freshman when he was introduced to engineering concepts and problems in the after-school MESA Schools Program, run through Cal State L.A.’s College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology.

 “That was the spark that encouraged me,” he said, noting that while math and science came naturally, he had never seen a career or future in the subjects.

MESA kept us off the streets,” he added. “Instead of doing bad stuff, we were building bridges in classrooms. … And that’s why I work in an office designing stuff, instead of in a warehouse moving boxes.”

Program administrators, Cal State L.A. professors and local educators agree, saying that the University’s reach into more than a dozen neighboring Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley schools has made a lasting impact.

“This program works,” said Thelma Federico, the director of the MESA Schools Program. “Students are given the guidance and support they need to be successful.”

Students at work.

Since the program launched in 1978, it has grown to include after-school programs at 16 different schools for nearly 1,200 students annually.

At the same time, Cal State L.A.’s MESA students, who are largely Latino/a, continue to beat the odds. Last year alone, 82 percent of its graduates completed the coursework required for college admission and 95 percent went on to attend a four-year college or university.

Similarly, more than 6 in 10 students who were part of the MESA in grade school major in engineering, computer science, technology, science or math in college.

“It has really opened up new vision and dreams to the students,” Federico said.

  • The MESA Schools Program celebrates its 30th anniversary at Cal State L.A. this year.
  • MESA helps prepare educationally disadvantaged students in middle and high schools for college and guide them into the industry by giving them access to hands-on math and science lessons, tutoring and academic support.
  • Cal State L.A. also runs a collegiate-level MESA program, called the MESA Engineering Program. MEP provides engineering students with similar access to tutors, student networks and academic counseling.