Groups of students huddled together around tables in Cathedral High School’s gym, using teamwork and science skills to tackle the morning’s project: building a 24-inch-tall tower designed to withstand earthquake simulation.

The Feb. 21 event, part of Viva Technology’s K-12 program designed to inspire underserved students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math, marked the first time it has ever been held at a Catholic school. It was sponsored by the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Great Minds in STEM, founded 25 years ago by former Cathedral teacher and ’66 alum Ray Mellado, and the Goodwin Family Memorial Trust. 

“The whole concept behind this is to really let these students [as well as] parents and teachers know that STEM is part of our future, and if our inner-city kids don’t come STEM prepared, our country will not make it,” Mellado told The Tidings as 22 college student STEM majors were preparing to guide more than 100 Cathedral STEM Academy students in the day’s activities. 

The freshman through senior students sat in groups of ten at tables that had information on a particular college science major, such as statistics, mechanical/civil/electrical/petroleum engineering, aerospace, computer science and metal technology. Throughout the day, they would hear talks from guest speakers that included a civil engineer from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Auxiliary Bishop Edward Clark. 

In his short keynote address just before the “working lunch,” Bishop Clark said the students were establishing new ground as the first Catholic school participants in the STEM event. “Hopefully, there will be many more Catholic schools who will be able to participate in this particular program,” said the bishop. 

He shared that his brother spent many years as a senior engineer for Mitsubishi, and took his values, including respect, honesty and ethics, into the workplace. 

“Many of you hopefully will go on into fields of work in which you will be able to use the values [you have learned in Catholic school],” he said. “It doesn’t mean you’re proselytizing people, it just means that when you do the work, you do it with a high set of ethical, moral values. When you can do that, you have made a success of yourself and a success of this educational system.”

It’s why programs like Great Minds in STEM, he said, “are willing to put money and time invested in you, and hopefully in other Catholic schools, because they see the value as well. So, really take it to heart, it’s a total package. Your values are not something separate from your personal life or from your work ethic, they all go together.” 

GMiS chairman/founder Mellado told the students that to compete globally, “our country needs what you’re doing here [in engineering and science]. It’s no longer a diversity issue, it’s a national security issue. We need you to move forward. What you’re doing is God’s work.”

Kristin McNeal, Cathedral’s director of the Math and Science Academy, told The Tidings while the students were doing interactive projects related to their table’s designated college major, the event was providing invaluable teaching moments.

“It gives another opportunity for people from the outside to tell our students how important science and technology and math and engineering are,” said McNeal. “It’s helpful for them to get hands-on experience making things so they can see that, ‘Hey, this is great and I do love it.’” 

“I love how everyone gets to work together and the competitiveness and how everyone is really trying to find the best way to help each other get the solution to the problem,” said sophomore Marshall Davis, III.

“I learned a lot about how to work together as a team to build our tower,” said junior Vicente Mojares, who added that he appreciated making new friends among his teammates.

“I’ve learned you can create anything, but it could be also simple — simplicity is the best for anything that we make,” said senior Joshua Palco, who is thinking of going into computer science.

“What I learned today,” said freshman Michael Duarte, “was a bunch of new opportunities that STEM can apply in future careers and what I really liked was the ability to work with your friends, combine your minds together and perform something great.” 

For more information about Great Minds in Science, which offers college scholarships to students of Hispanic origin planning to pursue a STEM degree at an accredited college/university (April 30 deadline), email [email protected] or log on to