ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy’s first graduating class is now graduating from ASU
Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.
Edward Meza was part of the first graduating class from ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy in Mesa, Arizona, and now he and others from the class of 2015 are preparing to graduate from Arizona State University.
The computer systems engineering major from Gilbert says he and his friends can’t believe four years have already passed since they were preparing to start at ASU.
“We just can’t believe how fast the time has flown by. … Now we’re ready to move on to whatever is next in the world,” he said.
Being part of the first class at ASU Prep Poly meant that they were the only class when they started high school, adding a new class beneath them each year as the student body grew.
“It was interesting being the only class in there as freshmen and by our senior year seeing it evolve to having an entire high school now. ... It was definitely a great experience,” said Meza.
It was in high school that Meza was first inspired to pursue engineering, thanks to the robotics team at ASU Prep Poly. He was a founding member and has returned to the school each year since graduation as a mentor for the current robotics team members.
“I love seeing how something that I helped start has continued to evolve and how all the members have grown to like it just as much as I have and get inspired to join engineering,” he said.
Meza has hit the books hard for his computer systems work and his Barrett, The Honors College responsibilities, but he found time to have fun at ASU as well, joining the “pseudo martial art” lightsaber club AZ Sabre and also ballroom dancing through Devil Dance Sport.
“Surprisingly there are a lot of engineers on that team,” he said. “[Those are] just a couple of fun things outside my major to blow off steam.”
As he prepares to graduate, Meza spoke with ASU Now about what lessons he has learned at ASU and where he’s headed next.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
A: Coming into high school I didn’t really have an idea of what I wanted to do in college. But after spending time on the robotics team I got inspired to do engineering. Specifically I chose my major, which is computer systems engineering, because it deals with both hardware and software.
In joining the robotics team I couldn’t decide what part I liked more, building the actual robot or coding it, programming it, so luckily my major allowed me a little bit of both.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: While here at ASU I was part of Barrett, The Honors College. As part of that we were required to take a course called The Human Event. It’s a cross-disciplinary course that teaches a variety of different important texts throughout history. Writings from Plato and Socrates to the Bible to, in my case, different sociological theories to a bunch of things that you might not learn in your specific major.
So when I took The Human Event, my professor, Dr. John Parker, he’s a sociologist. During one of the semesters he specifically taught us a bunch of sociological theories and important people in that field. It was very interesting to learn.
I don’t know if I’d consider it [for my] field personally. I still like engineering, but it was something that throughout the rest of my time at ASU whenever I had the choice to take another course I picked something in sociology because I found it interesting.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I guess you could say I was born and raised a Sun Devil. My mother and father both went to Arizona State University. When it came time to pick a high school, I decided to obviously go to ASU Preparatory Academy, and it seemed a natural transition to go straight to ASU from there, especially since I had already been on an ASU campus the entire time. [ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy is on ASU’s Polytechnic campus in Mesa, Arizona.]
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: The professor who taught me one of the most important lessons at ASU was Dr. Ryan Meuth. He’s a faculty member in the School of Computing, Informatics and Decision Systems Engineering, part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.
He’s very knowledgeable about the subject, and he helps out all his students. I actually did an honors thesis with him. It was just amazing to learn from him. He’s an incredibly knowledgeable engineer, loves teaching and passed down a lot of what he had learned to me and all of the other students.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Time management. Inevitably all the assignments in all your classes are probably going to fall on the same due date. So it’s best if you plan ahead and realize … it’ll be over soon but you are going to have to work hard for this little bit and make sure you have everything done.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: For studying, the best place probably is the Noble Library, the engineering library. Whenever I had to meet with a study group we’d always go there to work on our projects or study for an upcoming test.
As far as meeting friends, Memorial Union is pretty much the center of campus. We’d always meet there and then go wherever we need to go.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I’m in the 4+1 program in computer engineering. It allows me to take a couple of master’s courses right now, during my senior year, so that I only have one year left of my master’s degree next year.
So if everything goes according to plan, I’ll be graduating this year with my bachelor’s degree and graduating next year with my master’s degree in computer engineering.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: It’s interesting because my honor’s thesis tackles this same question. We’re allowed to do an honors thesis on any topic we wanted, and I picked why students at ASU decided to major in computer systems engineering, computer science and software engineering and why they didn’t.
It was in an effort to learn how fast we can get students involved in engineering and technology because right now there is a shortage of computer scientists out there, and with our world becoming ever more digital and tech-oriented, we’re going to need people in these fields.
The conclusion was that it’s best if we reach out sooner, in the early school years, and get children excited about engineering kind of like I was and inspire them to pursue this path, and that would help in the long term.