Logo: University of Southern California

Toyota Funds Program to Guide Talented Teens Toward Engineering

'Mission Engineering' will mentor teacher-recommended 11th graders from educationally disadvantaged communities

June 27, 2007 —

The Toyota USA Foundation has given the Viterbi School's Pre-College Programs Office $225,000 to launch a mentoring program to prepare and encourage promising high school students to pursue undergraduate engineering degrees.

"Mission Engineering" will introduce selected Southern California 11th graders to a wide array of engineering occupations.

Mission Engineering will introduce high schoolers to a wide array of engineering occupations.

A $75,000 first installment of the gift was presented June 18 to Viterbi School representatives. According to Larry Lim, director of Pre-College Programs, the funds will be used to conduct a series of Saturday seminars in the spring for 25 students, followed by a two-week nonresidential summer camp.  Toyota has committed to three installments.

“The goal of this program will be to mentor these very capable Los Angeles-area high school students, who have been recommended by their teachers and their counselors, and who have above average grades in math and science,” said Lim, whose office is part of Undergraduate Admission and Student Affairs. “Most of these kids have not been introduced to engineering yet, but they show the potential of doing well in the subject.”

Lim said 11th grade is the perfect time to identify promising students for this program, and try to pique their interest in engineering and technology, because the students have completed higher level math and science courses and will soon be making decisions about colleges and majors.  

During the 2007-2008 academic year, Mission Engineering staff and faculty will supervise the Saturday seminars, which will be held during the day in USC classrooms and laboratory facilities.  Administrators and teachers from participating schools, as well as Toyota USA Foundation program representatives, will be invited to visit the seminars.  

The students will be introduced to the scientific method, problem-solving and teamwork. 

Larry Lim

“These skills will help prepare them for success in college-level engineering and science programs, as well as improve their chances of success in high school mathematics and science courses,” said Lim.  “The program will also give them some exposure to various engineering disciplines, and some insights into career possibilities.”

USC has been a leader in the recruitment, mentoring and retention of underrepresented minority engineering students, especially those of African American, Native American and Latino descent. While these minorities represent only 18 percent of engineering graduates in America, according to the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), they constitute 24 percent of engineering graduates at USC.

“Although we are pleased with the success that we’ve achieved, we still have a lot of work to do to close that achievement gap,” said Lim, who runs several college preparatory and recruitment programs aimed at educationally disadvantaged students.

The best known is USC’s MESA (Math, Engineering, and Science Achievement) program.  Celebrating its 30th year, MESA works with more than 1,500 students at 26 elementary, middle and high schools in greater Los Angeles to motivate and prepare students to go to college and to major in a math-based field. 

In 2006, 92 percent of USC MESA high school graduates enrolled in college in the fall, Lim said. 

“We hope Mission Engineering will build on this already successful program by giving us the resources to mentor and prepare even more students for a rigorous field,” he said.