About 350 Southern Arizona high school students were on campus last week learning the engineering design process through telescope building.
Raytheon and its engineers, together with University of Arizona engineering students, faculty members and representatives of the Office of Early Academic Outreach, helped students who came from as far away as Nogales, Sierra Vista and Patagonia with the science project.
The effort is part of an initiative called MathMovesU, sponsored by Raytheon Missile Systems. Raytheon partnered with the National Optical Astronomy Observatory and the UA to provide the telescope-building opportunity to coincide with the 60th anniversary of National Engineers' Week.
Students worked their way through the telescope-building process as an engineering mentor checked off each step that they successfully completed in the assembly process.
The Tucson GEAR UP Project – Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs – addresses educational disparities through a U.S. Department of Education grant. The program was designed to increase preparation and success in post-high school education for the Class of 2012 at Cholla, Desert View, Pueblo, Sunnyside and Tucson High School.
Nearly 3,500 students became eligible for the program as sixth graders and began receiving college and career-planning sessions, college knowledge workshops, campus visits, academic enrichment and family services to support them on the path to higher education. About 250 of the 3,000-plus cohort of 11th graders were selected to attend the Feb. 17 event.
MESA stands for Engineering, Science Achievement Mathematics. Through advisors in targeted schools and coordinated efforts with the UA, MESA provides ethnic minority, low-income and first generation college-bound students opportunities to explore college majors and career interests with other students interested in attending college.
"Whoa! It's clear," said Joseph Perez as he lifted his telescope and aimed it to read a sign across the room. Perez is from Patagonia and is a junior interested in sports medicine. He was one of 50 Aprendiendo Por Vida (Learning for Life) participants, another federal GEAR UP program from Santa Cruz County.
All students went home armed with a new telescope and a tripod.
"These students are getting a remarkable experience in being mentored by UA students and engineering experts in the field at Raytheon. Building the telescopes and being on campus gives them a vision of future possibilities," said John Pedicone, Tucson Unified School District superintendent who was present during the telescope assembly and presentations.
Pedicone also said the event illustrated the great community partnerships between TUSD, the UA and Raytheon.
Raytheon recruits engineers from 35 strategic universities across the nation, including the UA, and employs 75,000 people worldwide and 12,000 in Tucson.
Speakers included Joaquin Ruiz, executive dean of the UA Colleges of Letters, Arts and Science; Rob Sparks, science education specialist with National Optical Astronomy Observatory; and Jeff Goldberg, dean of the UA College of Engineering.
Taylor W. Lawrence, president of Raytheon, said during his keynote presentation that just 5 percent of bachelor degrees awarded in the U.S. are in engineering. He showed examples of the type of work engineers contribute to in the field.
In a question-and-answer session that concluded the event, the Raytheon president confided that he too was the first in his family to attend college, and he urged students to consider both a college education and the possibility of a future STEM major or career.
"Focus on your grades," Lawrence said, adding that he would not have been able to afford to attend college without having good grades that led to scholarship opportunities.