MESA program downsized after funding loss

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Southwestern College’s highly-regarded MESA program suffered a major blow this summer when it was not renewed for funding by the California Community College Chancellor’s Office. Administrators at the Sacramento-based CCCCO said the SWC Mathematics, Engineering, Science and Achievements program was passed over for a competitive funding grant because the paperwork was not entirely completed.

A despondent Dr. Raga Bakhiet, SWC’s MESA director, accepted responsibility for the error. Bakhiet and others who reviewed the grant application skipped a section new to this year’s application form.

“Before submitting the paper work I did not notice that a form was missing,” said Bakhiet. “I also sent it to my colleagues to review it, but they did not notice anything missing [either].”

Bakhiet’s sister, SWC Professor of Biology Dr. Nouna Bakhiet, was gravely ill at the time of the application, but she refused to use that family trauma as an excuse. It will be almost five years before SWC is able to reapply.

MESA was created 20 years ago to help underrepresented students succeed in math and science. It has worked beyond the dreams of its creators, Bakhiet said. Research by the CCCCO showed that 74 percent of underrepresented students graduating from college with a Bachelor’s degree are MESA students.

“The purpose for MESA,” she said. “is to bridge the gap between the underrepresented and the privileged students.”
MESA students are assigned a counselor and a mentor to advise them on classes needed to fulfill their educational goals. SWC’s MESA Center was until this year a busy hub of tutoring and support.

“We used to have 800 students coming in a day,” Bakhiet said. “Now it is only a handful of them that come in.”

De’John Kinermon, a computer engineering major, is a member of MESA who said he appreciates the support offered to students.

“It is a place that provides a safe environment for everyone,” he said.

MESA student Rene Sanchez agreed.

“MESA prepares students for the future,” he said. “It gives you the tools you need to survive in your areas of professions as a (science, engineering or math) major.”

This summer 19 internships were awarded to SWC MESA students. The Lipp Family Organization sponsored six of those students.

“Students who are in the (science, engineering and math) majors are provided opportunities to participate in internship programs,” said Bakhiet. “They work on projects with the internship hosts to help them develop more confidence, encouragement and prepare them in their areas of expertise.”

MESA helped their students who were unpaid interns by providing them with $2,000 to cover their expenses during the summer. This eased the financial hardships for those students coming back to school after the summer break that might not have received one of the many scholarships offered by MESA. In September at MESA Night students who completed internships gave presentations on what they had learned.

Last year, 30 SWC MESA students transferred to universities. Bakhiet said MESA students have high university graduation rates.
Last semester the SWC Associated Students Organization helped MESA to hire tutors during finals week. Other foundations donated a total of $11,500 to help keep MESA open. Bakhiet said she will pursue other grant and funding sources to keep SWC’s MESA alive.

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