A nationwide organization founded in 1970, Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) has helped thousands of first generation and economically disadvantaged students take advantage of the college resources they need to be competitive workers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
At College of the Canyons, the program has built an undeniable niche for itself due to a combination of timing and geography.
With more than 45 percent of the college's students identifying as Latino, and the nationwide emphasis placed on STEM training, it’s perhaps no surprise the college’s MESA Center has flourished.
The atmosphere of the MESA Center is disciplined but also entirely inclusive. Students are expected to meet rigid academic requirements but can work closely with faculty to live up to those benchmarks.
The Center offers tutoring in all levels of math, science and engineering. Academic Excellence Workshops and professional development seminars in areas such as resume writing, interview skills, first impressions and math anxiety are also available to students.
Perhaps the most valuable aspects of the MESA Center are the ones that save students money. Free printing and textbook checkout help save a quick buck in the short term. Long term, faculty advisors and counselors work closely with students in securing scholarship and internship opportunities.
And beyond academic merit, the MESA Center is simply a fun place for students.
A typical day at the facility includes students hunched over homework and laughing over mid-morning snacks. On special occasions throughout the semester, one can find MESA students employing their intellectual creativity to design elaborate machines and launch various projectiles.
Embodying the mood and message of the resource-rich facility is a group of siblings from the Santa Clarita-based Jimenez family, which worked with MESA in graduating three sisters and their brother through to careers at the Department of Water and Power (DWP), Southern California Edison, the William S. Hart School District and COC.
“MESA was my home for three years,” says Joel Jimenez, 32, who graduated from COC in 2005 with an Associate of Science (AS) in engineering before earning a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at Cal Poly Pomona in 2008. He now works with DWP.
“I spent more time there than anywhere else those years, studying, going to workshops and participating in MESA activities,” he added. “It was the perfect place to meet up with friends and do homework, and we made lifelong bonds and friendships with faculty members as well.”
Myrna, 30, and Velia, 28, frequented the MESA center until their graduations from COC in 2006 and 2008, respectively, with 34-year-old Marilyn — the oldest — graduating in 2003.
Marilyn returned to COC after graduating from CSUN, and now works on the Valencia campus at the Santa Clarita WorkSource Center.
“I’ll always hold a deep appreciation for MESA. They not only assisted my siblings during their college experience but always made me feel welcomed,” Marilyn Jimenez said.
The family unanimously pointed out the value in MESA’s hands-on approach to building relationships between students and counselors.
In working with recently retired MESA counselor Dr. Edel Alonso, the siblings would receive detailed and consistent plans of action to help them on their path toward educational and career goals.
“I was privileged to get to know them, their dreams and struggles. As a counselor, I appreciate that they allowed me to witness their journey and celebrate their successes,” Alonso said.
Alonso developed their educational plans, and guided them towards the resources necessary to execute their goals.
“All four siblings worked while attending college, and despite their commitments to their families and their jobs they achieved college success,” Alonso added. “They understood the value of education as a way to a better future. They are a close family who support each other and celebrate their collective achievements.”
Velia may have been the most recent to graduate from COC, but that hasn’t stopped her from standing out as an overachiever.
After receiving her AS in biological and physical sciences in 2008, she graduated from a double bachelor’s degree program at CSUN in nutrition, dietetics and food science.
In 2014, Velia became a Certificated Lactation Education Counselor, and is currently pursuing a certification to be a Lactation Consultant through the UC San Diego Extension program.
“I honestly respect the MESA center since it is a great academic program for financially struggling students. I am thankful that I was able to succeed in my academic studies with their generous support,” said Velia Jimenez, who currently works with the Hart district and serves as a Maternal Child Health volunteer at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills.
The MESA program is coordinated by Dr. Eric Lara, once a struggling student who bottomed out at Cal Poly Pomona, honed his study skills at a number of community colleges, and returned to the university to graduate in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in engineering.
Following a brief career in engineering, Lara returned to college and received a master's degree in education from Cal Poly Pomona in 2008 and a doctorate in education from USC in 2011.
“It is essential for underrepresented, educationally disadvantaged STEM students to get involved with campus support programs, in order to increase the students’ motivation and retention. MESA provides that outlet for them,” Lara said. “When students walk into the MESA center, they automatically have an inclusive feeling amongst their peers and we assist them in developing the skills required to remain competitive, as well as the self-efficacy needed to succeed.”
The College of the Canyons MESA center is located in Aliso Lab, Room 114 on the college’s Valencia campus. For more information, contact Lara
or visit the MESA website
. Want up-to-date information about the MESA Center’s scholarship, internship and REU opportunities? Check out and “Like” the MESA's official Facebook page.