Mentoring Success: MESA Reaches a Milestone

It’s a banner year for members of the Multi-Ethnic Engineering and Science Association Tutoring Program, which begins its third decade this fall. The program connects UI engineering students in MESA with Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD) students who are interested in enhancing their academic experiences in science, technology, engineering, and math.

“MESA is about inspiring students, building their academic capacity, and continuing their connection to STEM activities through establishing a mentoring community,” says professor of chemical and biochemical engineering and associate dean for diversity and outreach Tonya Peeples.

The UI tutors help students between fifth and twelfth grades focus on academic achievement and dream big.

“We provide the kids with advice on how to approach problems in a range of subjects and how to incorporate good study habits in their daily routine,” says chemical and biochemical engineering graduate student Richard Gonzalez, who has participated in the program for five years, including one year as president of MESA. “We try to serve as role models for the kids since we tutors are still students as well.

We tell them where we are from, what we have achieved, and what they can do with an engineering degree—both the “knowledge and the opportunities.”

As the umbrella organization of multiethnic and diversity student organizations, MESA’s mission is to encourage academic interactions across diverse disciplines, ethnicities, and nationalities.

he impact of MESA extends beyond the academy to the interactions forged with local students during Tuesday evening tutoring sessions in the Seamans Center. The program serves around 90 students each year.

In recognition of its longtime efforts, the University awarded MESA the African-American Studies Community Service Award last spring.

Engineering students spread the word about the free tutoring through junior high resource fairs and a fall informational meeting for parents. The UI students are well prepared for their role as teacher-mentors; the ICCSD Equity Director, Johnson County Neighborhood Center staff members, custodial service staff members, the UI Director of Ethnic Inclusion, and College of Engineering Director of Diversity Programs and K-12 Outreach Tracy Peterson have all contributed to teaching the UI students about the School District’s behavior expectations and policies, as well as best practices to teach and positively encourage young people.

The success of the program is apparent in the success of the UI engineering students who themselves were mentees in their younger days. Mohammed Elkhair (BSE 2011 chemical engineering) is a program alumnus both as a MESA scholar when he attended Iowa City schools and later as a tutor when he pursued an engineering degree at Iowa. Elkhair now works as a production supervisor for Cargill in Sioux City, IA.

Peeples says former MESA Scholars in particular “do a great job motivating MESA scholars to improve their performance in school and to enter the next level of rigor in their studies.”

“It makes me proud when I meet tutors now who were tutees years ago,” Gonzalez adds. “The program empowers minority students, including African Americans, Latinos, and children from Middle Eastern countries. I am a true believer in the effect of this program to raise awareness of STEM among minority students.”

The young MESA scholars aren’t the only beneficiaries of the mentoring experience, however.
“Iowa student leaders in MESA gain a connection to the community and build cross-cultural mentoring skills,” Peeples says. “Many of our UI tutors and mentors have had distinguished educational careers and move into work at companies such as Cargill, John Deere, and General Mills. One alumnus is an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at North Carolina A & T University.”

Gonzalez adds that he has polished his teaching skills by working one-on-one with younger students. “And I’ve learned that leadership is not only coordinating tasks but also honing the Ability to communicate and motivate team members to enhance strategic goals.”