SAUSD Superintendent Jerry Almendarez Visits the NAC

A melodic chime and a cascade of claps and cheers echoed through the main room at NAC 3 inside Century High School on Thursday, February 17th. To an outsider, this may seem jarring and unexpected, but to the NAC, the traditional bell ringing was another successful day. The familiar sound marked another victory for the young scholars, as the ringing signified a fellow student’s acceptance into college. However, this Thursday afternoon, the traditional NAC bell ringing had a special guest.

Superintendent Jerry Almendarez had the honor of holding the bell during the celebration, witnessing the cheering of students and staff. One by one, a NAC senior took center stage, shouted out all the colleges and universities they were accepted to and at the end they rang the mighty bell. The NAC bell ringing is just one of the many traditions the centers implement to encourage students and celebrate their wins.

Once the celebration ended at NAC 3, he strolled by NAC 1 to have profound conversations with the students. Kneeling, he observed Class of 2022 senior Alejandra Rodriguez’ artwork and praised her for her talent. Alejandra expressed gratitude to the NAC for making the space for her to explore her creative endeavors. As a safe space for young, budding minds, students are encouraged to pursue their interests and share their talents with their peers.

On his final stop, Mr. Almendarez arrived at NAC 2 at Valley High School, where our seniors were in the middle of their weekly “Senior Sphere”. The NAC College Sphere is a layered program that helps students prepare for college based on their year, beginning as early as 8th grade and continuing through their final year of high school. Students participate in several functions to stay informed about important dates, application deadlines, writing courses to perfect college essays, self-reflective exercises, and many other resources.

The superintendent joined our seniors for their networking activity and had the chance to connect with our scholars to learn more about their dreams and aspirations after high school. As Superintendent of the Santa Ana Unified School District, Mr. Almendarez leads the 11th largest district in the state, with over 50,000 enrolled students. With the weight of Santa Ana’s youth on his shoulders, Mr. Almendarez still made time to greet every student at each NAC site.

The day ended with Mr. Almendarez meeting with the NAC Board of Directors and staff for dinner. He expressed how impressed he was with every student and their self-confidence. Determined to continue the tremendous success of the NAC, Mr. Almendarez pledged his full support.

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Richard Bausch Hosts Chapman Lecture: Writing as Freedom

The Chapman Visiting Scholar Series for the 2017 Spring season kicked off on Saturday, February 18th at the Annex in our downtown Santa Ana site. Our guest speaker, Richard Bausch, is a Chapman University English Professor at the Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities and Social Science. Bausch is most popularly known as an American novelist and a master of the short story form, having published twelve novels and eight collections of short stories. Writing as Freedom was the title of his lecture.

In attendance were 50 NAC scholars eager to learn about the art of writing. Bausch was calm and collected, reading passages from one of his books to the sea of students who were fixated on the gravity of the content delivered; he moved the crowd with the same influence the moon has on the tides of the Earth. His passages differed in length, the content spread out to captivate the minds in the room, and Bausch shared with scholars the atmosphere that he dwelled in during the writing of said story. Other readings were dense and heavy, leaving a vivid image in the students’ minds like the silhouettes that remain in sight after a bright object borrows the eyes of the beholder for a moment of intense visual stimulation, re-living the moment with every blink!

After setting the tone for that late morning, Bausch asked the students to finish off one of two prompts: 1) “If I had known it was her on the other side of that door I would have crawled across broken glass to get to her and open it.” 2) “Everyone thought Jane was stupid but did not know like me she had special powers.” The room then began roaring with the sounds of ball-point pens traveling across the lightly grooved tables. At mid-point, students began to gaze at the space in front of them, looking for the words to complete their story. Stories ranged from dense half-page content to material that spilled over to the back of the page. In Bausch’s words, “It doesn’t always take much to spark an idea.” Bausch was heartened that most of the submissions consisted of prompt number 1, as it involves a very mature way of thinking.”

After a brief lunch break, Bausch began reading the stories written by our scholars. It was interesting roaming through the mind of each student, through the thoughtful choice of words that completed each story. Bausch was impressed by the level of intellect, congratulating each writer in the room when he finished a story. In NAC Scholar Melody Fermin’s words, “He really explained that any idea could turn into a whole story simply by the way the author explains it.” The exercise came to show that any story could have the same beginning, but a completely different ending.

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Chapman University Professor Deconstructs Major Pop Culture Influences for NAC Scholars

“We can test how you learn in a class by your scores, we can test your aptitude by the SAT’s. They’ve always said you can’t test heart, but with our kids you can test heart.” NAC Co-founder, Judge Jack K. Mandel, spoke highly of the 25 NAC Scholars who chose to extend their learning day by taking part in the first Chapman Visiting Scholars Series lecture of fall 2016 on Saturday, September 24.

The main presenter Julye Bidmead, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Chapman University, was accompanied by Chapman University Senior, Shannon Anarella, and Chapman University Class of 2015 alumna, Marilyn Love. The trio presented on two popular courses at Chapman University; “Disney: Gender, Race, and Religion” and “Deconstructing Hogwarts: Harry Potter in Context.” The presentation examined popular culture as an academic subject that provided a nonthreatening backdrop for thoughtful discussions of religion, race, gender, ethnicity, and social class.

NAC Scholars were very quick to note the “Snow White” decal on Julye’s computer as well as her Disney Aladdin-themed shoes, both fitting for the lecture. “So why study Disney and Harry Potter films at the university level?” Bidmead noted that it is very important to analyze these types of films as they reflect parallels with our society ranging from stereotypes to gender roles. An example she used for gender roles reflected typical Disney movie constructs revolving around a female figure patiently waiting for a male character to save the day. Students were quick to disagree on these stereotypical roles and added that nowadays these roles are shared, as both genders have always presented similar strengths, but are now becoming widely accepted as equal.

“We all have identity! We are not just part of one thing but instead are all different,” stated Julye, referring to the term Intersectionality. She added, “We might share an age group, ethnicity, or a gender, but those aren’t the only defining features one should abide by since ‘you’ have additional interests that define ‘you’ as a person. An Identity!”

Voices among the crowd described that this lecture, in a good way, “ruined” their childhood because they are now able to see past the entertainment component of any movie. NAC Scholar, Alfonso Navarrete, remarked, “These movies track the changes in society throughout time.” Although some of the stereotypes reflected in the presentation weren’t pleasureable to uncover, it was very important exposure as one has to “know” what the problem is before one can fix it. Our social fabric is constructed by major influences like Harry Potter and Disney, but the presentation did not aim to say that these two entities are the only ones misrepresenting aspects of one social handle. The lecture was constructed so that Scholars will be able to critically analyze any show or movie in popular culture and see how it fits into or examines societal values.

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Cal State Fullerton Hosts a Luncheon for NAC Alumni That Attend CSUF

On Thursday, September 15, several NAC alumni who now attend Cal State Fullerton (CSUF) gathered for a luncheon on campus with NAC staff and several CSUF administrators, including Deanna Merino-Contino (Director of Center for Scholars), Yajayra Tovar (Assistant Director of Center for Scholars), Brittany Henry (Coordinator of Center for Scholars), Danny Juarez (Retention Specialist), Jaime Hamilton (Coordinator for Abrego Future Scholars and President’s Scholars), Kenitza Carrillo (Graduate Assistant for Abrego Future Scholars), among others. The administrators shared attributes of their departments and encouraged students to connect with them and take advantage of the services offered at Cal State Fullerton.

The event kicked off with students, NAC staff, and CSUF administrators conversing over lunch, introducing one another, or simply catching up on each other’s journey. Brittany Henry then opened up the floor to a group of panelists, consisting of Sam Barrozo (Retention Specialist, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics), Tatiana Pedroza (Graduation Specialist, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics), Peggy Garcia Bockman (Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, College of Health and Human Development), and Miguel Martinez (Career Specialist, College of Education).

The conversation held by the panelists focused on student involvement at CSUF as there are over 375 clubs and organizations on campus. These organizations suit a variety of interests and needs, including academic, social, cultural, faith, and community service to name a few. “Many students look around during graduation, looking for friends and peers to share the moment, but are left celebrating alone because they didn’t explore the Cal State Fullerton campus,” added Miguel Martinez. He continued by saying that many of his past students confessed to feelings of regret since they didn’t join clubs or take advantage of campus services, surroundings where the percentage of creating lifelong friendships with peers was greater. He better instilled the message of exploration by saying that attending Cal State Fullerton simply to go to class is like having an annual pass for Disneyland and only going for the “Tea-Cup” attraction and leaving the park soon after. You don’t get to experience the “magic”.

After the panel, NAC alum, NAC staff, and remaining CSUF faculty got into groups to devise plans of success for anyone attending Cal State Fullerton. One of the four questions read “With success can come challenges, how do you deal with challenges on your team? What advice would you give others who are struggling with reaching their success goals?” NAC Class of 2013 Alum, Eugenio Rivera, replied to that question, saying, “It’s okay to not know what to do, but the first thing you have to do is identify your challenges.” Two challenges his group used as examples were finding a balance between work and not having an identified major. “Accepting these challenges and finding support is key to overcoming obstacles.” Rivera continued, “If you are stuck in this situation, find a flexible job, work less hours, and learn to prioritize the important things in your life.” Rivera concluded, “Conduct a self-evaluation to discover or re-discover your strengths, then head over to the Career Center at CSUF to speak to a counselor about careers that utilize your strengths.”

Before leaving the luncheon, CSUF faculty, NAC staff and alumni gathered together one last time, clearing up last minute questions before NAC Scholars headed out for class.

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Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities celebrates students success

Years ago, Superior Court Judge Jack K. Mandel learned that many students at a Santa Ana High School were studying outside on the pavement once classes were done for the day. The reason, he discovered, was because the school district could not afford to keep the library open; and, there was no place at home for the students to study. When the weather was bad, they had nowhere to go.

Concerned, Judge Mandel persuaded the then Santa Ana school superintendent to allow him to at least supervise students in the library of Santa Ana High School once he concluded his court cases at the end of his work day. Santa Ana High School is minutes away from the Orange County Courthouse.

Bolstered by this after-school mentoring, students flourished. However, many lacked the resources or support to attend college. Judge Mandel worked with students, guidance counselors, and colleges to get many of these deserving students into four-year colleges.

Upon learning of Judge Mandel’s work, Dr. Henry T. Nicholas, III decided that these kinds of “incubator” programs could make the difference between success and failure for young people.

Dr. Nicholas partnered with Judge Mandel and launched the Nicholas Academic Centers, which are a part of a philanthropic network anchored by the Henry T. Nicholas, III Foundation.

The Nicholas Academic Centers (NAC) is an after-school tutoring and mentoring program where high school students can seek academic services, emotional support, mentoring and social services as they prepare to pursue their educational goals at an institution of higher learning.

The NAC strives to provide academic assistance, social services, cultural enrichment programs, college connection opportunities, and need based scholarship opportunities for students who meet the program requirements. With highly qualified staff in Academics, Higher Education, and Social Services, students have access to the resources necessary to graduate from high school and continue onto college. The NAC provides continued support and services to its graduates during the college years to ensure students graduate from college.

Services provided by the NAC are made possible through the generosity of Dr. Henry T. Nicholas, III and the Henry T. Nicholas, III Foundation. We would not be able to work with as many students without their support.

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125 NAC Scholars Crush Statistics and Look Forward to College

The significance of the moment hit him when he crossed the stage at the Nicholas Academic Centers’ 8th Annual Graduation Celebration and reached out for his college sweater. Long Nguyen, a Class of 2016 NAC Scholar and Valley High School graduate, quickly realized, “I’m going to USC.” It was a moment and realization years in the making. Alongside Long, 124 fellow NAC Scholars walked across the stage in the Grand Ballroom at the Marriott Hotel in Irvine, California, to shake hands with NAC Co-Founder & Financier, Dr. Henry T. Nicholas, III, and collect their college sweaters, NAC stoles, and NAC diplomas. As in previous years, 100% of this year’s graduating class is scheduled to enroll in postsecondary education immediately after high school.

The ceremony centered on the graduates who celebrated in the company of their parents, younger siblings, school administrators, community leaders, and other stakeholders. 95% of the graduates are the first in their families to attend college, and their journeys to find academic success depended largely on the support of those in attendance.

One of the evening’s student speakers, Class of 2016 graduate Carlos Gonzalez, who will attend Cornell University with fellow NAC Scholar and student speaker Adriana Herrera, thanked his mother and fellow scholars for helping him achieve success: “I grew up with a single parent, a hard-working woman who has sacrificed herself for her children. She has not only been a good mother, but a great father, too. I am very fortunate.” Inspired to make worthwhile his mother’s sacrifice, Carlos stated, “Our accomplishments have been barrier-breaking, but we need to break some more by completing our undergraduate studies and obtaining careers that will change lives.”

While it can be difficult to dedicate the extra hours needed to refine their academic profiles and prepare for college, luckily, the relationships forged between NAC Scholars make the NAC feel like a second home, as noted by the other student speaker for the night, Class of 2016 graduate and USC-bound Sandy Andres. Having attended the NAC since the summer before her freshman year of high school, Sandy notes, “It has been a transformative journey.” While spending many late nights at the NAC studying for SATs, applying to colleges, and sometimes simply chatting with friends, Sandy found a place that allowed her and fellow scholars to support one another in both happy and difficult times. Sandy is the youngest of three siblings who have graduated from the NAC, so attending the NAC for Sandy was truly a family affair: “I am following in the legacy of other NAC Scholars, who in my case, are my siblings.”

The accomplishments of our 125 NAC scholars are nothing short of remarkable. This year’s graduating class earned acceptances into over 90 colleges and universities, including Harvard, Cornell University, MIT, Notre Dame, UCLA, USC, and Berkeley to name a few. NAC Co-Founder & Financier, Dr. Henry T. Nicholas, III, commended NAC Scholars for overcoming economic and cultural barriers and “crushing” the statistics for college admission retention. Approximately 80% of the NAC’s Class of 2016 will enroll directly into a 4-year fully accredited university, compared to a National average of 42% and only 26% for Latinos according to the National Center for Education Statistics. To further highlight the accomplishments of our graduates this year, it is necessary to note that four NAC scholars were awarded the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship. Notable scholarship recipients were as follows:

Uriel Oropeza – Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship
David Pedroza – Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship
Luis Terrones – Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship
Rosa Yanes – Bill Gates Millennium Scholarship
Sandy Andres – Heid Foundation Full Tuition Scholarship
Long Nguyen – $40,000 – Edison Foundation Scholarship
Odalis Espinoza – $20,000 – Dell Foundation Scholarship

Since the NAC’s inception in 2008, our program has mentored and guided 727 students through high school and enrollment in college. Locally and out of state, NAC scholars are able to flourish in any college environment. To date, our scholars have been awarded a total of $33 million in the form of grants and scholarship funding. Our students’ baccalaureate degree completion rates for 4 and 5 years are 56% and 75% respectively, compared to the national average of 39% and 55%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

During the celebration, NAC Co-Founder, Retired Judge Jack K. Mandel, highlighted our students’ continued success, stating, “Our students meet the admissions requirements. Our students meet the academic requirements at the most competitive schools. Our students come out the other end of the tunnel headed for graduate school and professional school.”

The annual NAC alumni speaker was 2012 NAC alumna Katrina Linden, who received her undergraduate degree from the University Of Notre Dame this summer. Katrina talked about the emotional journey many NAC scholars may experience before embarking to college, but she reminded them of their resilience: “Like you, and like others before us, I was equally excited and nervous about starting my first year of college. In college and in life, you will get rejected so many times you might lose count, but there will be another internship, another paper, or another round of tests, and another chance to prove to yourself that you are capable of accomplishing amazing things.”

As the evening drew to a close, Marc Contreras, a Class of 2017 NAC Scholar and rising senior at the Samueli Academy, reflected on the night’s events. After watching many of his friends walk across the stage, Marc shared that he felt inspired and confident about his future: “Many of my friends are first generation students like I am, and if they can do it, I can do it.”

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Chapman University’s De La Riva Examines Cultural Implications on Student Stress

The change in conversation, from “can they” to “they will” go to college, adds a layer of complexity for first-generation college students. Crystal De La Riva, Academic Advisor and Promising Futures Program Coordinator at Chapman University, and Enrique Campo, graduate student at Chapman University focusing on marriage and family therapy, spoke on the Cultural Implications on Student Stress Management and Self-Care on Saturday, April 23 at NAC 1.

De La Riva is familiar with this topic as she was the first in her family to attend college, earning her B.A. in psychology and now working towards her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy at Chapman University. As a first-generation Chapman Alumna, she understands the learning curve associated with adapting to the college environment and seeks to help other first-generation students at Chapman University get the most out of their college experience.

Crystal opened the lecture by asking the students if they knew about the different types of stress that humans go through. Crystal then broke down the basic types of stresses, listing them as follows: physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and social. She explained that stress isn’t always bad as there are positive and negative stresses that we all go through. After explaining the dynamics of stress and sharing instances where one goes through each stress, Enrique pulled up a 5-minute video that took scholars on a journey into the biochemical effects that temporary and prolonged stress have on the body.

Scholars then formed a circle where they discussed everyday and atypical examples of stressful situations, both positive and negative. In one example, the character was a sixteen-year-old female honor student who had two younger siblings, worked part time, and played hockey. The mother was concerned because she wasn’t eating much at the dinner table and didn’t engage in conversation. NAC scholars then found out that the character in the story would recently snap at her younger siblings when they didn’t understand the concept of the homework she was trying to help them with. The character also blanked out at work while talking to customers, took longer to finish homework, had chronic stomachaches, and felt horrible for not having enough time to complete her tasks. NAC scholar Gaby Maldonado was the first to raise her hand, noting the character was going through emotional and physical stress due to her short temper and stomachaches.

The second half of the presentation focused on culture-specific stressors that first-generation students in college go through. De La Riva advised scholars to “be open to opportunities and resources.” She continued, “I learned in college that taking advantage of resources helped me out more than they hindered my future. First generation students in general tend to hesitate seeking out resources. They don’t want to come across as needing something or lacking abilities to thrive.” This advice was crucial as a handful of students in the audience are bound to start college this fall.

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Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce Honors NAC Executive Director Rosa Diaz as a Difference Maker

A simple philosophy can go a long way. “Tikkun olam,” a Hebrew phrase that literally translates to “world repair,” inspired now-retired Superior Court Judge and NAC Co-Founder, Jack K. Mandel, to dedicate his time and resources to help students in Santa Ana more than twenty years ago. Rosa Diaz, who was one of the first students in the early group known as the “Judge’s Kids,” found strength and inspiration in the Judge’s mentorship, and like the Judge, has committed her life to helping Santa Ana’s youth achieve success. As the NAC prepares to graduate its eighth class of NAC Scholars, raising the number of NAC alumni from 602 to 727 graduates, the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce will recognize Rosa Diaz, the NAC’s Executive Director and former “Judge’s Kid,” as the “Small Non-Profit Leader of the Year” at the sixth annual Difference Makers Luncheon on Thursday, April 21, 2016. The purpose of the award is to “spotlight extraordinary people helping to build a better Santa Ana.”

In 2008, when Judge Mandel partnered with Dr. Henry T. Nicholas, III, Co-Founder, and former Co-Chairman, President and CEO of Broadcom (BRCM), the Judge called on former “Judge’s Kids” Rosa Diaz, Hugo Gutierrez, and Rocio Chavez to help build the Nicholas Academic Centers (NAC) and carry out the philosophy of “Tikkun olam.” Rosa, who previously worked as a mentor for group homes and as an After School Coordinator with THINK Together, believed in the mission set forth by Dr. Nicholas and Judge Mandel, to nurture the talents and intellect of Santa Ana youth, and to help them realize their potential to attend, succeed, and graduate from college. After all, the same mentorship helped her find a path to success years ago.

“My life was changed when my mentor, Judge Mandel, took an interest in my life,” Rosa notes, adding, “He pushed me to go to college and openly supported every crazy idea I had, like triple majoring in college or traveling to South Africa. His unwavering support made me feel like the world belonged to me, that I had tangible control of my future.” Rosa considers it her calling to give back to the community and mentor Santa Ana’s youth, like her mentor before her. Smiling, Rosa comments, “I am incredibly lucky to be in a position that sees so much positive change in this world, and helping the NAC grow has been the most rewarding experience of my life. I am just lucky.”

Like the entire NAC staff, Rosa does not come to work every day with the expectation that others will recognize her work. Instead, she works with youth because it makes her happy, and it reminds her that the Santa Ana community is “full of hopeful and bright young minds, that if given a chance, can and will change themselves, their family, and the community through the power of a college education.”

As an immediate example of the NAC Scholars’ potential, Class of 2016 NAC Scholar Judith Carrillo will also be one of fourteen students honored at the Difference Makers Luncheon. Judith will receive a Difference Makers Scholarship sponsored by C.J. Segerstrom & Sons from the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce. Last year, two NAC Scholars, Amy Villarreal and Maria Garcia, were honored with the same scholarship.

If you would like more information about the Santa Ana Chamber of Commerce and the Difference Makers Luncheon, please visit their site HERE. If you are interested in attending the event, please visit HERE to reserve your seat.

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Chapman University’s Dr. Bisoffi Provides Insight on Cancer and Aging

We all know that lions give birth to cubs, dogs to puppies, cats to kittens, and humans to babies. Most people realize that it is due to the biological instructions held in our DNA. What few people understand, however, are the biological occurrences in DNA and what happens to those sequences as we age. Dr. Marco Bisoffi, Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology/Biological Sciences at Chapman University, expanded on that topic during a Chapman Visiting Scholars Series lecture on March 12th in front of a group of NAC scholars.

Conduct a quick search in Google or Bing for “DNA,” and a familiar image will appear: the double helix, that when unwound, looks like a ladder. To better understand Dr. Bisoffi’s presentation and how DNA affects aging, it might help to know a thing or two about DNA. DNA, or Deoxyribonucleic acid, is made up of two sets of polynucleotides that are made of simpler units called nucleotides. This thread-like design is tightly packaged together and forms an X-shaped structure that we call chromosomes.

Looking deeper, Dr. Bisoffi focused on the region of repetitive sequences at each end of a chromosome that protects the end of that package from deterioration and from fusion with neighboring chromosomes; these end pieces are called telomeres. For simplification, imagine a telomere being like the small plastic end of a shoelace that prevents the threads that make up that shoelace from unraveling. As cells proliferate (replicate), the telomere, or end of the shoelace, gets shorter, weaker, and when it becomes too short (critical length), the cell is signaled to expire.

Dr. Bisoffi explained that scientists have discovered that cancer patients tend to have more of an enzyme called telomerase in their DNA. Telomerase plays a key role in cell replication, as it helps telomere ends close as DNA is being duplicated. Explaining this, Dr. Bisoffi asked scholars what they thought of this information. NAC scholar Jesus Hernandez contributed by asking Dr. Bisoffi about the real world application of this knowledge: “Knowing that telomere length is reflective of age, could we tell how old a person is based off blood samples collected from a crime scene?” Dr. Bisoffi responded, “We can’t differentiate age within a few years, but we can tell if the victim was old or young based off those samples.”

This lecture was very useful as some of the scholars in the presentation had just been accepted to attend Chapman University in the fall. Luis Anaya, a regular attendant of the lectures and one of the scholars who was accepted to attend the university, said “I really enjoyed this lecture because Dr. Bisoffi introduced us to a section of cancer research that isn’t normally heard in public.” Anaya continued by saying, “Because the lecture was in a small setting, it really gave me a feel for how the private college classroom environment would feel like at Chapman University.”

Dr. Daniele Struppa, Chapman University Chancellor, added, “We know how to send people to Mars. There are a lot of technical complications but there is no real major new science.” Struppa continued, “Cancer is a completely different story. We know a lot, and yet so little.” In Dr. Bisoffi’s words, “Knowledge is basically power. If you know something, the next question is, what can you do with it?”

Click here for a video of the event.

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NAC Scholars Place First at MESA Model Airplane Contest

Two NAC scholars faced the challenge of creating a model airplane that was to meet or surpass the expectations of the judges at the 2015-2016 MESA Balsa Wood Model Airplane Contest. How did their approach to completing this challenge go? Not without turbulence.
NAC 2 scholar, Daniel Tapia, was left alone when his teammate changed his mind about joining the contest two weeks prior. Eager to find another partner, he quickly thought of the perseverant nature of Fabian Cuen, another scholar at the NAC. It took very little convincing to get Cuen on his team and they quickly started bouncing ideas off each other.
Soon enough, they had rough blueprints and a first model to test out. The results of their first run were disappointing. They persisted and created different versions, taking away the valuable aspects of each design, making each blueprint better than the one before.
It was during a late evening at Tapia’s garage when they had finished their 8th model. Eager to test their new plane, they ignored the consequences of testing in low visibility conditions and headed outside. Fabian spun the propeller, twisting the rubber band attached to it to create enough torque for take-off. When conditions seemed favorable, Cuen let go of the plane and they watched their creation reach new heights. “It was the best plane yet,” said Tapia! Having no control of the plane’s direction, however, they followed its course and watched helplessly as it landed on the neighbor’s roof. They politely knocked on the neighbor’s door and Fabian asked, “May we retrieve our plane from your roof? We were testing its flight and unfortunately it’s on your house.” The neighbor agreed, and they retrieved the plane for a second test run.
Fabian followed the same procedure and watched in astonishment a successful second trial. They followed the plane’s course once again and saw it fall on the street this time. They hurried towards the plane, but before they could retrieve it, a car ran over the right side of the aircraft. They cringed twice as they saw another car run over the same part of the plane and leave the scene. “We thought the plane was done for,” said Cuen. They picked up the plane and were surprised that it had survived, at least for the most part. They fixed the damage with some leftover balsa wood, tape, and tissue paper, and it functioned as though nothing had ever happened.
The day of the competition arrived and they were nervous, yet confident, that their plane would perform well. Planes small and large were being tested all throughout the contest grounds. Their confidence grew when they saw other test runs and model designs because the blueprints that the other contestants built upon resembled failures during the testing of Daniel and Fabian’s earlier models.
The two NAC scholars headed to an empty area of the park to test their plane before judging commenced. Happy with their runs, they headed back to the judging area. “I’m going to go to the bathroom,” Tapia told Cuen before splitting off in the opposite direction. As Cuen kept walking towards the judges, a piece of acorn fell from a nearby tree and pierced the right wing. The acorn had no problem penetrating the wing since it was mostly made from tissue paper. Eager to continue, Cuen headed back to their table where he began to repair the plane. As Tapia was walking back from his break, he was shocked to see Cuen fixing the airplane. Fabian explained the situation and they quickly made the essential repairs.
“Fabian Cuen and Daniel Tapia from Valley High School,” said one of the contest coordinators, calling the NAC Scholars to get ready for their official flight times. Fabian stepped up to the flight area and spun the propellers. He let go of the plane and they had a successful first run. After the plane landed, Fabian retrieved it and spun the propellers once again for a second run. Unfortunately, the second run was not as successful as the first and it made them uneasy. They were dependent on their last trial; luckily, it did not disappoint.
When the coordinators started announcing the winners of the contest, Fabian and Daniel were relieved that they didn’t hear the judges announce their name as the third place contestants. At this point, they were expecting either first or second place. They were extremely surprised when the judges announced the second place team. They wore huge smiles as they knew they were going to be the first place team. “Daniel Tapia and Fabian Cuen from Valley High School in Santa Ana, the first place winners of the 2015-2016 MESA Balsa Wood Model Airplane Contest.” Mission accomplished.
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