As a 7 year old, IBM researcher Andy Kellock loved math; he always found it easy and imagined growing up to be a jet fighter pilot. Hanging on to that dream through high school, he aspired to attend the Air Force Academy.
“Broken-hearted after not being selected, I was advised to go to college and get a BS in math or physics, and then re-apply for the Air Force,” laments Kellock. “I did, but by then my tastes had changed; the Vietnam War had just ended and I didn’t want to join anymore.”
Instead, Kellock, the top physics undergraduate in his college class, received a government scholarship to grad school and eventually earned his Ph.D. in physics from LaTrobe University in Melbourne, Australia.
Now, the IBM physicist of 24 years has another accolade to add to his list – Kellock is chairman of the Industry Advisory Board for MESA (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement), a California-based program that seeks to prepare and motivate educationally disadvantaged students to pursue successfully college-preparatory coursework, promote careers in math & science, and develop their pre-professional & leadership skills.
And the success rate locally has been astounding. According to Kellock, 80% of students in the MESA program attend a 4-year college. The percentage of non-MESA students that go on to a 4-year? 16.
“The students in MESA are typically economically challenged and many times, the first in the family to go to college,” said Kellock. “If they're lucky enough to be in the program since elementary school, it's not even a question that they're going to go to college.”
Joining the MESA family over 20 years ago, Kellock meant only to help out a colleague, IBMer Nabil Saade, by volunteering for MESA Day – an event held each year at San Jose State, on a Saturday, that provides students a competitive platform to exhibit a math or science based project. Designed to help students develop a mastery of academic skills over time, expose them to college campuses and laboratories and to build self-esteem and confidence, MESA Day turned out to be the hook for Kellock – he ended up taking over the MESA Day Bridge Competition and has been supporting it ever since.
“MESA is like a family. What I’ve seen over the years is students go through the program, then go on to college, and they almost always come back to volunteer,” said Kellock. “The kids feel that once they’re in the program, they’re protected and there are people looking out for them. It’s hard to let go! The enthusiasm of the kids is very infectious.”
With the grassroots efforts and passion for the program that Kellock has put forth over the years, IBM has become a regular supporter of MESA, by providing monetary donations, an active volunteer base, judges for various competitions and a location for MESA Industry Day.
Each year, on Industry Day, Kellock brings a group of MESA students in to IBM Research – Almaden to show them things like moving atoms, how colored water is filtered into clear drinking water and even a few other surprising things that caught the attention of the students – like automatic doors. “Things that are trivial to us just blow them away,” said Kellock. “Their schools are sometimes so shabby. It’s exciting just to see the inside of these big buildings alone.”
As chairman of the Industry Advisory Board, Kellock plans to keep instilling the value of this program to Silicon Valley corporations to obtain partnership funding and donations. According to him, volunteers are easy to find, but serious money is not – a few thousand dollars a year is hardly enough to keep the programs alive, and with the state education budget cuts, MESA is going hard to school districts and principals, hoping that they allocate another year’s worth of funding to the program.
As tough as it is, the MESA family and associates truly believe in the goodness of the program – and they have the numbers to prove their success. The San Jose State-based program supported 16 schools and over 1,000 students in the South Bay. Kellock expects the program to grow to 19 schools and 1,300 students next year.
“Volunteerism is great. It makes for a happier employee and it’s been a very rewarding experience. My heart goes out to the teachers, especially in this educational and financial climate. We’re very luck to have them – they’re helping build our future workforce. If I can help them build that, then I feel I’ve done a good thing.”
More about MESA:
Top right: Andrew in his lab at IBM Research - Almaden, holding a commemorative plaque from the Mayor of San Jose, honoring his contributions to the community.
Bottom left: Students in the San Jose-based MESA program thank Kellock for coaching them through one of many technology fairs, supported by individuals like Kellock, and corporations like IBM.
More on SJSU MESA Schools Program: http://www.mesasjsu.org