Markham Middle School eighth grader Julio Romero initially did not realize that joining the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement team would mean working on weekends. His teammate, Danae Tousant, even missed her mother’s birthday party when the team had to meet to fine-tune the mechanical arm that they were submitting for a state competition. All told, they put in more than 500 hours to work on their invention.
The work truly paid off, however, when the team, which also included eighth graders Jacqueline Sanchez and Ashley Baker, won the MESA USA national contest; together they fashioned a plastic container, trash grabber, arm sling and wire into a design for a prosthetic arm.
“At first I felt that it was too much work,” said Romero. “But after winning I felt that I could go all the way and I felt I needed to put more work into it.”
The MESA program is nationally recognized for helping students in low income neighborhoods excel in math and science by offering them guidance counseling, classroom assistance and opportunities to compete. The results have been impressive; for more than 40 years, students enrolled in the MESA program have been accepted into top universities around the county.
“A lot of students are pumped up because the students won and they didn’t think it was possible,” said Oscar Espinoza, one of the instructors who led them to victory. “I want kids to know that if they put their minds to anything they want to achieve anything is possible.”
As it turns out, Espinoza was himself in the MESA program from middle school through high school in Lynwood. Knowing what a difference the program made in his life, he along with fellow teacher Philip Gerlach contacted the UC Irvine MESA Center to bring it to Markham two years ago. The MESA program is now open to all students in 6th through 8th grade who are interested in math, science, or technology who are willing to attend team meetings.
“I’m a MESA advisor because I see that there’s a need for these students to get the preparation that they need so that they can know that they can attend prestigious universities,” said Espinoza. “I think there are a lot of students in schools like Markham who, if they are just told and encouraged and given the things they need, they can go to college or pursue a career.”
The team took first place at the preliminary competition at the University of California Irvine, then the regionals at Imperial Valley Community College; that victory was followed by the state competition at the University of the Pacific in Stockton and lastly, nationals at the University of Portland in Oregon.
In addition to a school trophy, the teens each received certificates and gold medals from MESA USA. Recently, the team was recognized by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and presented with commendations recognizing their achievements from Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas.
As the third year of the MESA program begins at Markham in October, Espinoza, knows the big win has ignited an interest to join Markham’s MESA team.
As for the invention of the prosthetic arm, it will be on display in the main office for all students, faculty and parents to see.
“I would tell students thinking about joining MESA at Markham next year to never give up” said Ashley. “MESA can open many doors for you and your future. All you need is determination.”