UW Today

This is an archived article.

February 9, 2000

Gates Foundation gift bolsters statewide program that encourages minorities and women to pursue their interests in math, science and engineering

A $1.6 million gift from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will allow expansion of a statewide program designed to involve students in math, science and engineering into the elementary grades, a move the program’s leaders call crucial in encouraging more women and minorities to enter science and engineering careers.

The gift will also initiate a Washington Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement program (MESA) center focused on the needs of rural and tribal schools.

“The focus of MESA so far has been in urban areas – the rural and tribal areas are still underserved in terms of our program,” according to Mona Bailey, state board chair for MESA. “We want to make certain students in those areas receive the same opportunties. We would like all the citizens of this state to be able to take advantage of the rapidly increasing opportunities in science and technology in Washington.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gift comes at a critical time for MESA, Bailey said. Research indicates that early encouragement is vital in persuading girls and minorities to pursue interests in math and science, so the expansion into elementary school is an important step to make. But funding is the determining factor.

“The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant provides important matching funds that will strengthen our request to the legislature to support MESA elementary expansion,” Bailey said. “The foundation has a history of addressing the needs of children, and I see this as one more expression of their investment in the youth of our state, which is also an investment in our future.”

Nearly $1 million of the gift will be used to establish integrated science and mathematics education in elementary schools, including curriculum development, teacher professional development and parent education. About $366,000 will bring the MESA program to tribal schools and to rural schools with high American Indian populations. The need is great at such schools, MESA officials say. Projections indicate that 40 to 75 percent of Washington’s 27,600 American Indian students in grades K-12 won’t finish high school. In addition, about half the American Indians who attend college don’t complete their freshman year.

The remainder of the gift will be spent on making curriculum available for the program expansions and expanding support for parental involvement.

MESA was formally created in 1982 at the University of Washington to attack the dramatic drop-off in mathematics and science learning among middle and high school students, particularly girls and minorities. MESA’s mission is to foster interest and competence in those fields among black, Hispanic, American Indian and women students. To accomplish that, the program brings together schools, parents, universities, industry and business to engage the students in hands-on learning, field trips, guest speakers, summer technology camps and internships. In 1998, more than 4,000 students participated in MESA programs and 91 percent of high school seniors in the program went on to college, 68 percent in math, science or engineering. MESA currently has centers in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane and Richland. In addition to the UW, where the program is based, university sponsors include Washington State University, Gonzaga University and Pacific Lutheran University.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation places a major focus on helping improve people’s lives through health and learning. Significant foundation projects include: the Bill and Melinda Gates Children’s Vaccine Program, a $100 million commitment to speed the delivery of lifesaving vaccines to children in developing countries; the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, a $50 million commitment per year for 20 years to provide college scholarships to high-achieving minority students; the Maternal Mortality Reduction Program, a $50 million commitment to prevent pregnancy-related deaths of women in developing countries; a $25 million commitment to the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) for research and development of a vaccine to prevent the spread of AIDS; and a $50 million grant to the Alliance for Cervical Cancer Prevention to prevent cervical cancer in developing countries. More information can be found at http://www.gatesfoundation.org.
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For more information, contact MESA State Director Patricia MacGowan at (206) 543-0562 or pmac@engr.washington.edu, or Bailey at (425) 201-2424.