Investing in ESSA

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July 7, 2016

A $150,000 gift from Marathon Petroleum adds support for STEM students in ESSA

Michigan State University and Marathon Petroleum Corp. (MPC) celebrated a new partnership and a $150,000 commitment for underrepresented and underprepared students in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) on July 6 in East Lansing, Michigan.Theo Caldwell, (left) director of the Diversity Programs Office, accepts a $150,000 contribution from Marathon Petroleum for support of students in the Engineering and Science Success Academy (ESSA) at MSU. Several Spartan alumni were among the Marathon representatives, including Rod Nichols ('74, '77), senior vice president of Human Resources and Administrative Services, who is standing next to Caldwell.

Marathon Petroleum’s support will strengthen the Engineering and Science Success Academy (ESSA) at MSU – a seven-week, residential program administered by the Diversity Programs Office in the College of Engineering. 

“Marathon Petroleum is helping us increase the number of students in a proven high-impact program -- ESSA,” said College of Engineering Dean Leo Kempel. “It is a great step in helping new students to succeed and helps us build a bigger career pipeline into engineering, technology, and science.” 

“MPC is honored to partner with Michigan State University and support the Engineering and Science Success Academy and its students,” said Rod Nichols, senior vice president of Human Resources and Administrative Services for Marathon Petroleum. “We are proud to provide financial assistance to a program that encourages students who benefit from additional preparation to pursue careers in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.” 

The new partnership was the focus of a ceremony in MSU’s Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center during Wednesday’s ESSA summer career fair. Representatives of Marathon Petroleum and MSU celebrated a three-year agreement and also networked with students to discuss internship and employment opportunities.

ESSA is a seven-week residential program that prepares STEM students prior to college. Two of this year's ESSA participants are Jendayi Nkenge and Jesus "Jesse" Salas, who are both interested in mechanical engineering.


Established in 2007, ESSA is a two-year initiative that helps prepare STEM students from underrepresented populations for MSU’s four primary STEM colleges – Agriculture and National Resources, Engineering, Lyman Briggs, and Natural Science. Students participate in a seven-week summer bridge program that helps them transition into their freshman year in college. ESSA participants attend daily classes in math, writing, and chemistry/biology in a living-learning environment that also offers guidance, networking, and summer fun.

Research has confirmed that early technical classes, specifically early math classes, are accurate indicators that a student will succeed in earning a degree. Preliminary statistics show a 70 percent graduation rate for ESSA participants. Read more on ESSA at:

Theo Caldwell, director of the MSU Diversity Programs Office, said ESSA was originally created for about 20 students. 

“This partnership is another way Marathon Petroleum is supporting its commitment to diversity and inclusion, both on campus and in the workforce,” said Jaime De La Cruz, the company’s Diversity, Inclusion and Talent Management manager. “We look forward to our relationship with ESSA students and are excited to participate in the continued success of the program.” 

“With new partners and ongoing support, we have been able to impact underrepresented and academically underprepared students,” Caldwell explained. “Marathon Petroleum’s contribution is helping us show even more students how to earn degrees and qualify for good-paying STEM careers. And it strengthens us to do whatever it takes to help our students succeed,” he added.
Spartan Engineer Terry Pharaon ('14, electrical engineering) is a Project Engineer 1 for Marathon Petroleum and a past ESSA mentor. "Leading students to overcome barriers and obstacles so they can reach their academic goals is very meaningful," he said.