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Black engineers tutor students in math, science, technology

Photo by Jason Lewis (194737)
Photo by Jason Lewis

The Los Angeles Council of Black Professional Engineers (L.A.C.B.P.E.) has helped many students in math and science through their Excell Program, which has been held at Cal State Dominguez Hills since 1989.

The program tutors students from the second grade through college with classes taught by professional engineers, scientists, and other math and science-based careers, such as medical and business professionals.

“Excell was established to motivate Black kids towards the fields of engineering, science and technology, and to also prepare them for the future with reference to their education,” said Mel Spears,  a retired aerospace engineer who has worked for the Boeing Company, Hughes Space and Communications, McDonnell Douglas Aerospace, and Northrop Grumman.

Spears is from Los Angeles, graduated from Jefferson High School, went on to attend Howard University before graduating from Cal State Long Beach. He received an associate of science degree from Southwest College and a Masters degree from Dominguez Hills.

“When we talk to our kids and tell them about engineers, scientists, astronauts, pilots, and doctors, generally we don’t see those professions represented by people of color,” Spears said. “So what we try to instill in our participants is that there are those opportunities to have those kind of careers, if proper preparation is made with a proper education and experience.”

“The main focus is to get the kids to understand that there are more careers than just sports and entertainment, or things that they see in the media,” Spears continued.

The Excell program is held during two 10-week sessions—one in the spring, and one in the fall—and Spears has seen great results, especially from the students who struggled with math and science, when they started the program.

“All of the students who come here who have problems with their math, or the understanding of the concepts of science, find that it’s beneficial, and that’s validated by the parents coming back and saying that their kids are doing better in school, are getting higher grades, have a higher interest, and are more focused on their school work,” Spears said.

While the program prepares students to pursue majors in math and science, it is also beneficial to students who will pursue non-math or non-science majors and careers, said Spears.

“With a math background and foundation, they’re more likely to be successful,” Spears said. “And it doesn’t matter what career. Even an entrepreneur will be more than likely to succeed, because he or she can understand the economics of their business with a good math foundation.”

Math and science are required to graduate from high school, and a high level of both subjects are required to gain admission in college, meaning that all students must pass these classes to advance their education, Spears pointed out.

“We know that, just by [looking at] statistics, that those with higher educations end up with larger paychecks, regardless of their career,” Spears continued. “A high school graduate and a college graduate, there is a big difference in their potential. It’s just something that’s a fact.”

Because of the competition to gain admission to college, many students expand their education outside of their school, which some children may have a problem with.

“When the students first come to Excell, they say ‘I go to school on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  Now you have me come to school on Saturdays. That’s six days,’” Spears said. “But what they’re not looking at is that the other ethnic groups—the Asians, the Caucasians, and people who come here from other countries, they go to school six days a week. They don’t go shoot hoops after class. They have study groups.  They aren’t smarter than you (Black children); they work harder. That’s what we’re trying to get our children to see. They (often) ask why are they’re doing this when they (could) be hanging out with their homies. We say ‘well your homie isn’t going to be prepared for college. In fact, your homie might be looking for bail money.”

The program costs $85 per session, and Spears said that they work with parents who have a financial hardship. He said that no student is turned away, and that parents with multiple children in the program receive discounts.

For more information about the Excell program, contact the L.A.C.B.P.E. at (310) 635-7734 or visit their website at