High school seniors from New Mexico took over the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex last week to question a number of KSC employees about everything from career paths to balancing personal and professional roles.

External Relations and Business Development Director JoAnn Morgan and Education Programs and University Research Division Chief Pam Biegert welcomed the 87 New Mexico Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement (MESA) Program participants.

The students also listened to lectures, toured the space center, participated in student educational workshops at the Center for Space Education, and witnessed the landing of the Space Shuttle Atlantis following its STS-110 mission.

“I’m just so excited to see what’s out here,” said Valerie Salim, a student at Rio Grande High School in Albuquerque. “I plan to spend my four days in Florida looking for new career ideas.”

The visit is part of the year-round, nonprofit New Mexico MESA program. The national initiative promotes educational enrichment for pre-college students from historically underrepresented ethnic groups. Starting in middle school, MESA prepares students for college majors in mathematics, engineering, science and related fields. The MESA program receives financial support from the state of New Mexico, numerous other state and national corporations and foundations, federal agencies, and private donations.

“I’d like to do sometOrg involving biology and engineering-maybe a physical therapist for astronauts,” said Jonathan Vigil from Robertson High School, Las Vegas, Nev. “I’m also enjoying the weather and learning about the employees’ extraordinary accomplishments.”

Living in New Mexico is not the only acceptance criteria. The visiting seniors were a selected group who earned the incentive field trip to KSC based upon grades, completion of four years of high school math and science classes (which exceeds the required graduation minimum), participation in fields trips and community volunteer projects, and a career interest in NASA. (Historically, 98 percent of participants go on to college.)

“The number of students in college earning math, science, technology or engineering degrees continues to decline for U.S. students. But the number of jobs in these fields that need to be filled continues to increase,” said Pre-College Programs Lead Steve Dutczak. “A major segment of pre-college students are the historically under-represented ethnic groups. It is to this group that programs like MESA offer the way to help fill the future needs of the scientific and technical world.”

MESA students at KSC represented six regions of New Mexico-from the most northern to the most southern parts of the state, as well as some surrounding areas. Many of the students took part in fundraisers and worked various jobs to help pay for their trip to Florida.

“MESA students are our future engineers, scientists, and technicians,” said Karroll Purer, KSC education specialist. “Many have faced challenges, such as financial constraints and being first generation college students. MESA students are achievers!”