Dominguez High Students Headed to MESA Nationals

Jennifer Barrientos and Azucena Castro
Jennifer Barrientos (center) and Azucena Castro (wearing award-winning prosthetic arm design) celebrating their First Place win at the state MESA competition. At rear is MESA advisor Emmanuel Ikeokonta. Photo: courtesy CUSD.

Prosthetic design wins state competition, sends students to nationals; others encouraged to pursue STEM fields

COMPTON (MNS) — Two of Compton Unified School District’s best and brightest have advanced medical prosthetics technology one giant leap with the design of a low-cost prosthesis that won First Place overall in California’s statewide competition for Math, Engineering, and Science Achievement (MESA).

Dominguez High School seniors Jennifer Barrientos and Azucena Castro will be heading to Ogden, Utah in June to represent CUSD at the national MESA competition — an historic first.

According to the national, non-profit Amputee Coalition, a consumer educational organization representing people who have experienced amputation or are born with limb differences, “Each day, more than 500 Americans lose a limb,” a reality that gives immense credibility to the prothetic design by Barrientos and Castro, whose affordability carries tremendous future-design implications.MESA features several categories for grades 6-8, as well as 9-12. Barrientos and Castro entered the Prosthetic Arm Challenge category, where teams of 2-4 people were challenged to design and construct a prosthetic arm according to strict guidelines, produce a technical paper on their design, and present an academic poster to a panel of judges. The completed product had to come in under a budget of $40.

Per the MESA competition guidelines, “The Prosthetic Arm Challenge involves the development of a low-cost prosthetic device to complete a set of pre-defined task. Teams are tasked with research, design, construction, testing, and competition using a trans-radial prosthesis designed to complete the following tasks:

•  Distance Accuracy Task: greatest distance and accuracy achieved by throwing bean bags into the Target Zone in the fastest time.
•  Object Relocation Task: fastest time achieved by placing all objects into and removing all objects from a specified container.
•  Dexterity Task: greatest number of bolts and nuts correctly placed and secured onto the testing device in the fastest time.
•  Design efficiency: greatest ratio of device performance to device mass.”

Barrientos and Castro fashioned their prosthesis using a mailing tube, duct tape, rubber bands, a synthetic belt, claw, and eraser. The combined value of the items was $25.

Of their achievement, Castro said, “It’s really exciting because it’s the first time Dominguez High has made it this far. I hope that our accomplishments can influence others in the community to pursue STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields.”

Barrientos acknowledged the hard work involved to create a winning design:  “[It] really pays off. If you have the persistence to do something, it doesn’t matter where you come from or where you live,” she said, adding, “Mr. Ike [student MESA advisor Emmanuel Ikeokonta] always pushed us to do great things. He’s always been there for us.”

“Jennifer and Azucena are very dedicated, hard-working go-getters who are never scared of the level of work it takes to be successful,” said Ikeokonta. “These girls are not just students to me; they are like my adopted children.”