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Students harness the wind at annual MESA Day
Author: John Kirkland, University Communications
Posted: May 15, 2012

Two hundred fifty students from Portland high schools and middle schools converged on Portland State University Friday, May 11, to tackle the challenges of creating simple wind power devices.

The occasion was MESA Day, an annual event at the PSU campus for Oregon MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement). MESA is an outreach program of PSU’s  Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science that engages students from underserved schools in hands-on technical projects. MESA Day is the year-end competition among MESA students to display and demonstrate their long-term projects.

One high school and one middle school team each year is selected to participate in a national competition.  The national team members chosen from Friday’s event are:
•    Franklin High School, team members Bin Chen and Karen Tiet.
•    Poynter Middle School, team members Daniela Pedraza, Teralyn Putney, Carissa Alexander, Nicole Van Schijndel.

The Oregon winners will compete with teams from other MESA organizations in Seattle, June 22 through 24.

PSU’s MESA program is unique in the country in its focus on invention education to solve problems in developing countries.  The Portland-based Lemelson Foundation recently announced it will grant Oregon MESA $216,000 over the next three years. Part of the grant will be used to form a curriculum that follows Oregon MESA’s invention emphasis and disseminates it to the other eight MESA programs in the United States.

The Lemelson Foundation and Intel were sponsors of this year’s MESA day.

Students involved in Oregon MESA focus on “human-centered design” to solve problems for people in developing countries. This year’s central theme was wind energy.  Students were given the challenge to invent wind-powered devices that could move objects, lift weights and generate electricity.  Next year’s challenge will be to invent an inexpensive prosthetic arm for possible use by victims of land mine explosions in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan.

“These are designs for the other 90 percent,” said Justin Stenkamp, a volunteer at MESA Day from PAE Consulting Engineers, noting that most commercial designs are out of financial reach for people in poor countries.  “The work of these students speaks to our company’s passion for sustainability,” he said.

Other volunteering organizations at the event included Luma Lighting Design, the Bonneville Power Administration and the Bureau of Land Management.

A major goal of MESA is to increase the number of engineers and other technical professionals in the United States, which faces an engineering gap compared with other countries. It also promotes pre-college educational success. On average, 97 percent of MESA students enroll in a post-secondary educational institution.

“We believe in the power of invention to change lives.  Kids need opportunities to engage in problems and apply their knowledge in a hands-on way,’ said Tak Kendrick, of the Lemelson Foundation.

About Portland State University (PSU)
Located in Portland, Oregon, PSU has nearly 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students. PSU’s motto is “Let Knowledge Serve the City,” and we provide every student with opportunities to work with businesses, schools and organizations on real-world projects. Our downtown campus exhibits PSU’s commitment to sustainability with green buildings, while sustainability is incorporated into much of the curriculum.

About The Lemelson Foundation
The Lemelson Foundation works to inspire and enable the next generation of inventors and invention-based enterprises in order to build a stronger US economy and create social and economic change for the poor in developing countries.  For more information, visit

About Intel
Intel, the world leader in silicon innovation, develops technologies, products and initiatives to continually advance how people work and live. Additional information about Intel is available at Intel Oregon is Intel's largest and most comprehensive site in the world. Additional information about Intel Oregon is available at

Photo by Steve Dipaola