PC Students Connect with Industry Professionals to Launch STEM Careers

Wednesday, November 29, 2023
Phoenix College students and staff stand in front of the step and repeat backdrop at the MESA Student Leadership Conference in San Diego.
Phoenix College computer science student Jeffrey Wilhelms at work during the MESA Student Leadership Conference
Phoenix College students Jeffrey Wilhelms stands with his cohort at the MESA Student Leadership Conference in San Diego, California.
Phoenix College student Marcel Lopez worked with MESA students from other colleges on a project to address one of the UN Sustainability Goals.

One-on-one interactions with company executives, engineers and recruiters, as well as small group interdisciplinary projects occupied Phoenix College (PC) Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA) students–Maya Lee, Evelyn Rivera Elias, Marcel Lopez, and Jeffrey Wilhelms–at the invite-only STEM conference in San Diego from October 20-22 at the Marriott Mission Valley. MESA is a nationally recognized program that looks beyond traditional student populations to meet future and global workforce demands in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Phoenix College is the first community college in Arizona to have a MESA program. Its first cohort of MESA scholars started in Fall 2022. Frank Marfai, co-founder of PC's MESA program, says, "We are excited to have Maya, Evelyn, Marcel, and Jeffrey representing Phoenix College. We are proud of them!" 

STEM Undergraduates Refine Their Teamwork and Leadership Skills

The MESA Student Leadership Conference brings together engineering, computer science, and other STEM undergraduate students from community colleges and universities with industry professionals. It is designed to develop the next generation of diverse leaders and provides opportunities for STEM students to refine their teamwork and leadership skills. These skills are necessary to successfully transition from college to professional careers in the STEM fields. This year's conference challenged students to design a product or service (in about 30 hours) to address one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Jeffrey Wilhelms, a computer science major and member of the first MESA cohort in Fall 2022, appreciated the interdisciplinary collaboration. "We worked with people from other campuses majoring in all different disciplines–biology, engineering, mechanics–to see a different perspective. We all pitched sustainable ideas and chose to make a smoke detector that can detect gas leaks, floods, and fires to keep people and factory buildings safe." Marcel Lopez, an aerospace engineering sophomore in his second semester of PC's MESA program, was grateful to meet people his age and learn about their backgrounds: "I'm Mexican, and many of my conference teammates were Mexican. To discover we have the same background–first-generation college students with immigrant parents–was great to find somewhere other than Phoenix College." 

Career Expo Provide Connections that Lead to Internship and Employment

Many students often leave the conference with connections that lead to internships and full-time employment. Marcel said the conference Career Expo allowed him to network with leaders from Uber, Qualcomm, Keysight Technologies, Hewlett Packard, and other San Diego-based companies. "We heard insights into their companies and how these companies are looking for driven and motivated young people, like those in MESA. I spoke to many recruiters, shared my resume, and got my name out there."

Companies recognize the importance of engaging with and supporting students — so much so they fully fund the conference with donations and volunteers. These corporate partners realize these are not simply underserved and underrepresented students but an underutilized pool of talent long overlooked. Jeffrey noted: "The conference had many different aspects to help prepare us for a professional career. It showed me how to be an engineer in the real world, including problems, challenges, and interpersonal opportunities."

MESA Involvement Reaps Benefits

Evelyn Rivera Elias, a PC math major, says, "You need to be involved to reap the benefits of MESA." Evelyn notes she's made most of her friends in the program "because you already know this is another student who is also a STEM major." However, the program also allows students the time and support to determine how to apply their interests. "There's a lot of things I could do with a math degree. Right now, I'm figuring out what I do and don't like. With MESA, I learned about the TRAIN Scholarship, which allows students to have undergraduate research experience, and that's been great." Marcel mentioned the monthly MESA workshops and events are excellent resources for first-generation college students regarding professional support. "I can't go to my parents and ask what their college experience was like because they didn't go to college, so the program becomes like a parent or big brother. Everyone wants to help you." 

An Innovative and Effective Academic Development Model

The White House, the Ford Foundation, and the Silicon Valley Education Foundation have all recognized MESA for its innovative and effective academic development model. Learn more about the MESA program at Phoenix College, and consider if it's right for you!