MESA Club continues to buck the odds and produce future-thinking science

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MESA was math and science before math and science were cool. It lived the life of pi before Robert Parker hit the scene.

Southwestern College started a Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement center (MESA) in the 1970s before STEM classes became PC during the Reagan Administration. SWC’s long-running and highly-successful MESA Center in room 396 provides support for under-represented students in a studious yet relaxed environment with support from tutors.

MESA has a legion of successful alumni. This year MESA students make up a small percentage of the campus population, but account for 30 percent of Southwestern College’s Student of Distinction Award (SODA) winners. (Journalism students are second with 25 percent). Raul Soto, MESA Club advisor and tutor, is one of the success stories.

“Through MESA I was able to get my stuff together and I ultimately transferred in the fall of 2007 to San Diego State,” he said. “In large part because the MESA program requires you to see your counselors, get your plan ready and get prepared to transfer.”

Soto now works as a math adjunct at SWC and is working on his Master’s degree in peer mathematics.

SWC’s MESA program suffered daunting cuts that not only nearly wiped out its budget, but is also threatening its existence. Last year, the MESA program changed from a categorical fund to a competitive fund, meaning it was no longer guaranteed money from the state and had to compete with 35 other schools for allotments. SWC and five other schools received no funds for tutors, interns or any other state support.

Program director Dr. Raga Bakhiet said she hopes funding will eventually improve. SWC has been a constant ally to MESA, she said.

“(Southwestern College) never stopped (funding MESA), and I’m very grateful for that,” she said. “I have the support of the leadership all the way up.”

Bakhiet is working to bring more support to the program through writing grants and donations from the community.

“I am waiting to make sure that everything is done legally,” she said. “I like to play things safe, no matter how long it takes.”

This semester the MESA Club held fundraisers to pay for markers, printing paper and other basic supplies. A book sale raised more than $100 and the Pi Day bake sale held on March 14 (or 3/14, the first three digits of pi).

MESA Club member Alfredo Calderon spoke at the MESA orientation for prospective members about the club’s goals.

“We want to raise funds to help the MESA program a little bit, in what little way we can do it,” said Calderon.

MESA President Jireh Imperial said the organization is a powerful support group.

“We’ve become a family – you’re striving together for one purpose, you’re helping each other out, you really get to know each other, so I think of the MESA Club and the MESA program as a family,” she said. “We’re all there for each other and it’s helpful to have that family to help you out.”

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