SDCCD Trustees Meeting: Mesa, Where Students’ Feel Most at Home

Alexandra Aboukhater, Staff Writer

            The San Diego Community College District Board of Trustees recently held a meeting at San Diego Mesa College to discuss funding, budgeting, and showcasing the current success of Mesa’s programs. On Nov. 14, the Board of Trustees opened the meeting for the public and for educators to bring forth anything needing to be addressed. Each SDCCD Trustees were all impressed by what Mesa’s programs’ resilience  

            The campus presentation began when Mesa College President Pamela Luster presented four academic resource programs, such as PATH, STEM, NextUp, and Umoja. The programs’ faculty members displayed their progress by having former students share their experiences. Irena Stojimirovic, Professor of astronomy at Mesa, shared how she has witnessed former students who have thrived in STEM majors, which is an issue in education, diversity-wise. Stojimirovic explained the lack of representation of minorities and women who graduate with STEM majors as being a negative aspect that she hopes to change. According to Stojimirovic, “STEM fields, especially  astronomy, are notorious for the lack of diversity and just to bring some numbers to you, only eight % of all physics faculty in the United States are female.” Despite the odds, she has created research opportunities for STEM students, such as NASA internships and worked with HSI (Hispanic Serving Institution) programs to guide students into STEM-orientated majors

            Naylynn Tañón Reyes shared on a recording some insight into what it means to be a Mesa student. Reyes was a STEM student who worked closely with Professor Stojimirovic when she first attended Mesa, which lead to an internship at California Institute of Technology’s NASA Exoplanet Archive.  Prior to interning with NASA,  getting accepted to Smith College, her college career had been put on hold for a couple of years. Reyes mentioned, “It wasn’t until I went to Mesa that I finally found my place and my people. I remember talking to Irena Stojimirovic and she was my astronomy professor. She’s the one that let me know about research opportunities available and from then, that’s when this whole journey started.”

           Mesa’s Speech and Debate Team made a theater performance called “It’s a Fact!” directed by Communications Studies Professor Kim Perigo. The Speech and Debate Team performed as former Mesa students who face different sets of problems that they believe will prevent them from continuing college. They exclaimed, “Fifty-nine % of college students have food insecurity in the past year, it’s a fact! Thirty-five % struggle with mental health illness, it’s a fact! Fifty-four % of disabled veterans between the ages of 35 to 54 live in poverty, it’s a fact! One-third of LGTBQ students of color are 40% in low income.”. After the statistics, the story continued where the students argue with one another about who has the most difficulty, but soon conclude that they are dealing equally with distinct struggles. By the end, they do not let these issues hinder their diligence, or see themselves as victims, but only move forward as resilient students.

          The feeling of being supported by Mesa’s educators and resources became apparent from what the students from each program had to say, especially from the NextUp program. NextUp is Mesa’s program for current and former foster youth. The college recently opened up the FAST Center, a space on campus dedicated to former or current foster youth to study, use computers, socialize, get tutoring, or grab a snack. Sade Burrell, the NextUp and FAST Scholars Coordinator, also spoke about services available in the NextUp program, such as academic advising, tutoring, mental health services, and motivational leadership workshops