CSULB Freshman Wins Video Pitch Contest at MESA Conference

CSULB engineering freshman Zoe Smith went to last month’s MESA Conference hoping to learn about leadership and connect with future employers. She didn’t realize she’d end up winning the video-pitch challenge, which came with a $1,000 prize.

Smith was among 14 CSULB students who attended the MESA Student Leadership Conference Oct. 27-28 in downtown Los Angeles. The event connects hand-picked engineering and computer science students with industry professionals to develop the next generation of STEM leaders.

The conference gives MESA students an opportunity to interact one-on-one and in small groups with company executives, engineers, and recruiters. Many attendees leave with internship offers that lead to full-time employment. Students also participate in mock interviews and workshops in communications, team building, emotional intelligence, and financial literacy.

In the video pitch challenge, students receive 30 minutes of coaching from industry judges, then deliver a pitch to the audience about what they believe in as a person, student, and a young mind in STEM. The Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) program guides diverse students from underrepresented backgrounds into STEM careers. The CSULB MESA program is housed in the College of Engineering.

“The prompt for the pitch was general so it gave me the freedom to focus on something that I’m really passionate about, which is my connection between math and the world,” said Smith. “In the speech, I highlighted the existence of infinity within a finite environment. I described the world as a circle and everyone in it as different angles within the circle. As a whole, humans create an infinite number of opportunities within the earth to form energy that will reciprocate will allow us to be our best selves.”

Smith said she didn’t think she’d make it to the semi-finals. “I decided to make a submission video the day that it was due and when it came time to actually give the live speech in front of the audience during the competition, I ended up improvising more than planned, which isn’t my usual style. Typically, I like to make sure I’m more prepared but this actually proved to be a good thing. It forced me to really think and speak from the heart.”

Both students and companies benefit from the conference: students from throughout the state network and gain the soft skills needed to be well-rounded employees; companies gain access to talented, diverse candidates for internships and employment.

This year’s partners and sponsors included Edison, Southern California Gas Co., Applied Materials, ecmc Foundation as top sponsors, and Applied Materials, ecmc Foundation, Pacific Gas & Electric, and San Diego Gas & Electric. Other participating companies were: AT&T, Blast Motion, Boeing, CHC Consulting, Crane Aerospace, Disney, NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, Northrop Grumman, Oracle, and Wells Fargo.