Students test their skills in math, science and engineering

Jayme Russell, 7, (right) a second-grader from Alianza Charter School, gets help from Ocean Hurd, a computer engineering student, in learning to use Project Star Catcher, a virtual reality contraption at UC Santa Cruz Saturday during the annual MESA competition as other Alianza students look on. (Photo by Tarmo Hannula/LIFE)

More than 300 students, grades six through 12 from Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, converged at the Baskin Engineering building at UC Santa Cruz Saturday to compete in the annual Math, Engineering, Science Achievement preliminary competition.

The students, from 16 schools between the Pajaro Valley and Soledad, competed in the one-day event in a wealth of math and hands-on exercises, said Alexandria Leckliter, MESA director.

Pedro Ascencio of Alianza Charter School said Saturday marked his 13th year at the event. He came with a group of 32 students from Alianza, a group that invented the Attend-o-Meter, a gadget that can help a teacher accelerate the roll-taking process.

“Every year this gets bigger and better,” he said. “I now have former students that have gone on to college and the university that return and come back to help me at this event. Right now I have students also from Watsonville, Pajaro Valley and Aptos High helping here today. They do it because this program helped them and they want to give back.”

As the world economy changes from an industrial focus to technological focus, there is an increasing demand to prepare students to be successful in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in their classes and through hands-on projects.

MESA, which is nationally recognized for its academic development programs, engages thousands of students so they excel in math and science and graduate with math-based degrees, Leckliter said. MESA partners with all segments of California higher education as well as K-12 institutions.

For almost 50 years, MESA has a track record of producing math-based graduates by providing classes, hands-on competitions, counseling, transfer support and a community environment to students from middle school through four-year college, Leckliter said.

“I love this program because you can see the progression and development of the students year after year,” said Luis Garcia Bautista, academic coordinator for MESA in Watsonville. “There’s a lot of talent here.”

In April the winners advance to the Northern California Regional Final, which will be held at the Google campus in Mountain View.

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