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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Science For Creative At Heart Mesa Contest Rewards Problem-Solving With Fun

Virginia De Leon Staff writer

Masking tape held the car together.

With cup lids for wheels and a body made from a Styrofoam to-go box, the wacky contraption traveled at least six feet before the lavender balloon on its roof deflated.

“It takes creativity,” said the car’s designer, 13-year-old Ray Marcilla. “You have to figure out what the car’s going to look like before you make it.”

The race car - a science project completed in half an hour - was one of the sturdier creations Thursday at a math and science competition at East Central Community Center.

Sponsored by Washington State University, the contest involved more than 150 eighth-graders in Spokane’s Mathematics, Engineering and Science Achievement program (MESA).

For five hours, the East Central gym was turned into a scientific playground as students threw paper airplanes, raced balloon-propelled cars and flung Ping-Pong balls with homemade catapults.

Each game required them to use problem-solving and engineering skills, said Andy Jackson, MESA’s middle-school coordinator.

To make the race car, for instance, Marcilla could use only a limited number of materials including paper and plastic straws.

“It’s a hands-on method that challenges them,” Jackson said. “They learn how to design, build prototypes and then improve their work.”

Founded in 1989, the MESA program was created for students of color and girls of all ethnic backgrounds - people who rarely pursue careers in science and engineering, said Terrie Scott, program director.

Women and members of minorities usually aren’t encouraged to explore math and science, she said. They also don’t have role models in those areas.

Besides the 150 eighth-graders at Thursday’s competition, the program involves another 200 students in grades 6 through 12.

“(MESA) helps you learn,” said Christina Lee, a Shaw Middle School student who constructed a blue Styrofoam car with magnets on the bottom. “It’s also fun, and we all work together.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 photos (1 color)

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