STEM Challenges at MESA Day

Enrolled students in the USC MESA program at partner middle and high schools work on exciting and authentic team-based projects. These projects cultiminate in the annual MESA Day competitions hosted at the local, regional, and state levels.  MESA students will:

  • Apply mathematics, science, and engineering principles to academic contests, and over time, develop their mastery of these academic skills.
  • Build self-esteem and confidence through preparation, participation, and access to relevant real-world STEM challenges.
  • Be part of the maker and creator movement that encourages problem-solving in a framework fostering creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills.

Panda Express MESA Day @ USC

Since 2000, Panda Express has sponsored this local competition with over 800 MESA students, advisors, teachers, parents, administrators, USC student volunteers, USC professors and staff, and Panda Cares volunteers in attendance each year.


2020 Date:  Saturday, March 7 at USC

Competitions for 2019-2020 are grade-specific and team-based. For example, a 9th grade student cannot be on the same team as a 12th grade student.  If this occurs, the team will compete in the higher grade level (i.e., 11/12). At MESA Day @ USC, competitions will be held at the same time and will include:


6, 7/8, 9/10, and 11/12 Divisions

  • Bridge (Stick Together / Civil Structure) - team of 2 to 3
  • Glider (Wright Stuff / Wright Turn) - team of 2 to 3
  • MESA Machine - team of 2 to 3
  • MESA Think Tank - team of 2 to 3
  • Prosthetic Arm - team of 2 to 3

6-8 and 9-12 Divisions (i.e., mixed 6-8 grades / mixed 9-12 grades)

  • MESA Arduino-based Solutions for Humans (NEDC) - team of 3 to 4
  • MESA Escape Challenge - team of 2 to 3
  • Scratch It Up! / Coding Solutions (pilot) - team of 2

For the MESA Arduino-based Solutions for Humans (NEDC) competition, team poster and project report are required in advance and must be sent electronically to no later than 12:00 noon on Monday, March 2, 2020. Create poster as a single PowerPoint slide and save as a PDF file.  Save project report as a PDF file with maximum file size of 9MB. Due to time constraints, the Poster Symposium will NOT take place at MESA Day @ USC; only the Technical Presentation and Interview (limit of 3 minutes for presentation/demonstration and 2 minutes for interview) and the Prototype Pitch (limit of 5 minutes) will occur.

For the MESA Think Tank and MESA Arduino-based Solutions for Humans (NEDC), a computer with LCD projector will be provided at MESA Day @ USC. Teams should bring the presentation file on a flash drive and save it on a file sharing program. The host is not responsible for accessibility and compatibility issues; therefore, teams should also prepare an alternative if problems arise.

For the pilot Scratch It Up! and Coding Solutions competitions, each USC MESA middle school program is limited to one team and each high school program is limited to 1 team due to facility constraints; total middle teams will be 15 and total high school teams will be 20. However, additional teams per school may be available the week prior to the competition date depending on registration.


The following e-learning modules provide participating MESA students an overview, rules clarification, and important mathematical and science concepts to consider for the specified project.  MESA students can review the modules on their own, at their own pace, and on any device with Internet, video, and audio capability.