Introducing Paula Shelton: Maryland MESA Director
A former science teacher, Maryland MESA Director Paula Shelton brings a wealth of experience and bold ideas for MESA's future. MESA, which stands for Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement, is a K-12 program aimed at preparing students, particularly minorities and females, for degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Established in 1976, the program now serves more than 100 schools and 2,100 students across the state. Since its inception, more than 24,000 students have participated in the program.
Shelton knows firsthand that exposure to science and math during childhood is critical to inspiring students' pursuit of those fields. Her father—an airman during World War II who later became a pharmacist—gave her a microscope when she was 10 and encouraged her interest in science. As a teen, she became interested in technology while maintaining a motorcycle that she owned.
After a first career as a radiology technician, Shelton changed gears to become a teacher. A NASA fellowship provided the financial support for her to go back to school for her certification, and she began teaching middle school science. Shelton says fellow educators were instrumental in encouraging and mentoring her. "They were willing to share their experiences and show me how to become a better teacher," she says.
Shelton came to APL to run MESA after 10 years of teaching. One of her goals has been to identify and share best practices among the participating schools. "Some of the clubs were only preparing for the competition at the end of the year, while others give their students more support and exposure to careers and opportunities through meetings, career counseling, field trips, speakers, and special instruction throughout the school year," she says. She wants make sure that the school-based programs are more equitable so that all students have equal access and opportunities. Shelton has also worked to increase scholarship and networking opportunities for students by establishing stronger partnerships with organizations such as NSBE (the National Society of Black Engineers) and U.S. FIRST Robotics, a NASA-sponsored program.
"I see an opportunity to reach more students and expand their knowledge about the unlimited opportunities in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology-related careers," Shelton says. "I do believe that this is the best and most exciting time to be alive and able to actually do whatever you dream."