A Model for Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA)
It’s the first week of fall quarter, but you’ve already made friends and completed your first three classes. What could have been an overwhelming situation for a first-generation engineering student is instead a confident start thanks to MESA, a UC Santa Barbara program to help underrepresented students achieve success in STEM studies and careers. Thanks to private support from donors including Diego Rey ’04 and UC Santa Barbara Foundation Trustee David Henke ’78, MESA continues to shape a STEM workforce that reflects the diversity of California.
For 40 years, MESA has provided the academic support, resources, and career services needed to increase the number of minority undergraduates who earn engineering degrees at UC Santa Barbara. MESA begins with an immersive summer program before freshman year.
“The summer program lets you hit the ground running,” said Diego, a MESA alumnus. “It was the biggest impact on my success at UC Santa Barbara because the instructors were also students, and it set the tone for the rest of the school year.”
MESA continues through a Student Leadership Conference, a textbook lending library, student organizations, academic support, mentorship, and community service. Diego stayed involved with MESA and Los Ingenieros, the campus chapter of the Society for Hispanic Professional Engineers, throughout his undergraduate experience. He earned a Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from Cornell, where he launched a successful startup — since acquired by Roche — that innovated clinical microbiology diagnostics solutions. Practiced in mentorship since college, Diego now helps scientists become founders at the startup accelerator Y Combinator.
In MESA, undergraduates mentor each other, and together, they bring K-12 students to campus for STEM experiences. Diego rallied his fellow alumni to support MESA in the collaborative spirit of the program.
“Private support enhances our capacity to serve students with flexibility that allows us to meet students’ needs as they arise,” said Micaela Morgan and Mario Castellanos, program leaders. “Innovative support mechanisms build and develop student efficacy to ensure they thrive in their STEM majors.”
UC Santa Barbara’s MESA alumni have founded startups, become schoolteachers, and pursued careers with industry leaders like Hewlett Packard, Raytheon, Intel, and Boeing. As a leader who has met challenges by hiring the right people, UC Santa Barbara Foundation Trustee David Henke ’78 sees the value in MESA. After founding two start-ups, he arrived at Silicon Graphics to find a problem: computers with tools that didn’t work, hundreds of millions of dollars of un-shippable equipment. David mobilized his fellow engineers to resolve the issue.
“I realized that as good as I was as a programmer, I could get many people to work with me,” said David. From then on, he managed engineering and operations for large companies. LinkedIn employed 200 technologists when David joined in 2009; when he left in 2013, there were 2,700. David pushed LinkedIn to recruit UC Santa Barbara alumni, who he describes as more well-rounded and more collaborative. In all his hiring, David noted the underrepresentation of the Latinx community in engineering. “The question is,” he said, “what are you going to do about that?”
David’s answer: sharing his wisdom through talks on campus, staying involved in the College of Engineering, and generously supporting MESA. David hopes his support will train underrepresented students and help them find opportunities in STEM.
Monica Cisneros ’22 is also committed to helping the next generation through MESA, which can begin in kindergarten and extend through college. Monica got involved in sixth grade. Now a pre-chemistry major, she is part of Los Ingenieros, mentors freshmen and transfer students, works in the MESA office, and leads K-12 outreach. She follows the example of her older brother and sister, both Gauchos and MESA alumni.
“MESA is so inspiring,” said Monica. “When I see little girls create engineering projects, I get so happy.”