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Anonymous donor gives to programs

A $1 million gift toward construction of a new Portland State University building will enable expansion of a program which prepares pre-college students for earning degrees in engineering and mathematics.

An unnamed donor has committed the donation to the planned Northwest Center for Engineering, Science and Technology.

Gary Withers, vice president of university relations, described the gift as simply “for the building” without any specific dedication to a program. However, a statement by Robert Dryden, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, made it plain.

The gift will allow the College of Engineering and Computer Science to expand and enhance the current Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement Program (MESA). This is an educational program geared toward high schools, middle schools and elementary schools.

“The Oregon MESA has been extremely successful in giving students the preparation in science and mathematics that they need in order to be successful in college,” Dryden said. “This gift will significantly enhance MESA’s ability to reach out to the community.”

The planned expansion brought great news to Scott Minnix, executive director of the Oregon MESA program.

“It’s a tremendous boost to us,” he said. “We have not had operational space. We would now have that space. The overall commitment the dean has made is remarkable.”

The expanded achievement program facilities will include a computer laboratory, a student lounge, an office, an auditorium and a classroom. The expansion will enable students in MESA to interact directly with the College of Engineering and Computer Science students and faculty.

“We now have just a little space and a conference room,” Minnix said. “It’s more of a student-service area.”

The current facility is located in a small suite in the Fourth Avenue Building.

The achievement program is a national program that came to Oregon in 1985. The Oregon branch specifically calls itself “an educational program dedicated to supporting under-represented students pursuing careers in mathematics, engineering and science.” One of its goals is to increase the number of ethnic minorities and female youths who pursue a college degree. It serves more than 500 students annually.

The national goal of MESA also is to focus on students under-represented in colleges of engineering and science. It also operates in Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, New Mexico, Utah, Washington, Nevada, New York, Missouri and Georgia.

Minnix wants to bring in intercultural-engineering-student organizations not now represented at Portland State. He listed the National Society of Black Engineers and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers. He would like to offer a more congenial home to American Indian Students for Engineering and Science. The organization now occupies a small office in Smith Memorial Student Union sub-basement.

“The average science teacher will lecture in front of a classroom,” Minnix explained. “MESA gives students the opportunity to get exposed to practical uses of math or science. MESA brings concepts to reality.”

The PSU chapter is the only MESA chapter in Oregon, and Minnix would like to take it statewide. Oregon, he said, has other engineering schools only at Oregon State University and University of Portland, with an engineering technology school at Oregon Institute of Technology. None of these has MESA.

Minnix himself graduated from the MESA program at the University of Washington in 1982. He’s in his 18th year working in the program and in his third at PSU.

Joan Kurowski, center director for PSU’s MESA, listed the following school chapters due in 2003: Benson, Franklin, Grant, Gresham, Jefferson and Marshall high schools and Clear Creek, Fernwood, George, Lane, Ockley Green and Tubman middle schools. It will also operate in some elementary schools.

The overall plan for the new center includes 130,000 square feet of laboratories, classrooms and faculty office space. It will house collaborative programs with Oregon Health and Science University and other institutions.

The center will be located just south of the Fourth Avenue Building at 1900 S.W. Fourth.

No potential completion date has been announced. The project’s total cost has been estimated at $70 million, Minnix said.

The Fourth Avenue Building is the current main location of the College of Engineering and Computer Science.

The new building, described as Phase I of the new center, will occupy a grassy tract currently lined with trees. When finished, it will be adjacent to the Parkside Center office building to the south, filling in the entire block from Harrison to College streets.