Thursday, March 10, 2011

Washington's MESA program gets a big ol' math and science grant

Posted By on Thu, Mar 10, 2011 at 4:32 PM

Today, The Inlander published a cover story examining solutions the Spokane School District has implemented to fight its considerable dropout rate.

But nearly any solution, of course, is limited by money. Money can fuel lower class sizes, more tutors, more teachers, and the kind of alternative programs that can save academic careers or energize them.

Take MESA. For years, MESA has been a program intended to inspire under-represented groups — blacks, Latinos, American Indians and women — to pursue careers in math and sciences. MESA classes, in every Spokane Public School high schools, typically feature extra elements: field trips, college tours, guest lecturers from organizations like the WSU chapter of the Society of Women Engineers. Over 90 percent of the kids in MESA not only graduate — they go on to college.

Programs like MESA are often funded, or aided, by grants from organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But the endowments for foundations ran into two problems. First, the economic crash devastated their investments. Second, many were set up so long ago (as conscience-assuaging entities by ruthless titans of industry like John Rockefeller) that, 100 years later, they're slowly running out of funds. 

That creates the need for new foundations that can do the hard work of raising funds for organizations too busy working to spend time wooing donors. Foundations like Washington STEM, a relatively recently formed foundation focusing on "Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics."

"We have a goal of raising $100 million," says Elson Floyd, STEM member and WSU president. "It will be ultimately a grant-providing entity."

Today, Floyd handed MESA a giant check totaling $593,259. This money creates a summer institute of sorts, to allow 25 Spokane area students to do some intensive work on math or science.

He also handed them a Flip camera, to allow them to record their experiences and document any success.

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