“You can move pretty much anything” says Asma Dahir, a ninth grader at Granite Park Jr. High School, adjusting the prosthetic hand on her right arm to demonstrate how the device works.
One at a time, she picked up different objects in the classroom, a book, a stapler, a bottle of hand soap, and moved them from one place to another. “It’s really easy.”
The prosthetic arm is the same one Dahir, her twin sister Anisa, Lila Ahmed and Yusuf Sharif, used at the Mathematics, Engineering, science Achievement (MESA), National Engineering Design Competition in Portland earlier this year.
Their team, one of two representing Utah, took second place in the country.
“We’re very happy. We had a lot of competition,” Anisa Dahir says, noting that they beat out teams from seven other states.
Utah’s MESA program began 20 years ago, as a partnership of the University of Utah and Granite School District. The program started with 52 students. Since then, MESA has grown to include 17 school districts and charter schools.
One of MESA’s objectives is to increase the number of underserved ethnic minority and female students who pursue careers in mathematics, engineering, and science areas.
Students compete in teams within their school and state to qualify for the national competition. The teams’ challenge changes every three years.
This year, the first of the Prosthetic Arm Challenge, teams were asked “to research, design, build and compete using a prosthetic device to mimic the movement of the wrist, hands and fingers.” Along with the arm, teams have to write a technical paper and do an oral presentation.
“It’s not just building something. They have to present it, they have to discuss it, take questions on it,” Andy Marks, an advisor for the team, said of the challenge. “It’s a huge undertaking but it is incredibly valuable for them.”
Utah teams have gone to nationals before but had never won.
The Dahir sisters joined MESA as seventh graders after watching their older sister Hawa, who joined the club and competed at nationals. The two recruited their friend Lila. Yusuf also was encouraged to join by his older sister Najma, a MESA member in the high school team.
“It’s really interesting. It’s a great way to get involved, and it’s great on a college application, Asma says. “You are doing what you love and you get benefits from it.”
The team’s trophy and plaque sit in a display case at Granite Park Jr. All the team members, with the exception of Yusuf, who moved out of state, plan to continue to be part of MESA as they move to high school next year.
The high school siblings also had a reason to celebrate. Both Hawa Dahir and Najma Sharif competed at nationals with Cottonwood High School’s MESA, the second team to represent Utah. Along with teammates Amisha Dula and Natalene Rehan, the high school team took first place in two of the three tasks in the competition.