Chapman University will be abuzz with engineering activity the next couple of Saturdays, as hundreds of middle and high school students descend on the campus to compete in the annual science competition days sponsored by the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) Program.

One of the country’s most innovative and successful programs, MESA works with thousands of educationally disadvantaged students to support their studies in math and science and encourage their pursuit of math-based degrees. MESA conducts classroom programs year-round, but some of its most lively events are the hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) competition days.

This Saturday, Feb. 26, Chapman will host a local STEM competition with about 300 middle school students from five nearby school districts. They’ll bring their paper cars, working windmills, foil barges and eggs. Yes, eggs! The gooiest event each year is the EggXpress egg drop. Using only materials specified by the national MESA headquarters as protection, students engineer egg-cradling packages they hope will help their egg survive a launch from the top of Hashinger Science Center to the parking lot below.

Among the many other activities are competitions to build the best manila-folder bridges and drinking-straw barges.

A similar day will follow on March 5, when 250 high school students arrive at Chapman for their STEM day. And in April Chapman will also host the middle school regional finals.

While it’s all a blast, the program is about more than just fun and design, said Vonna Hammerschmitt , coordinator of Chapman University’s MESA Program. “The students see a university close up, some of them for the first time. MESA’s purpose is to serve students in area schools who are educationally disadvantaged, have had little exposure to higher education and may consider a university education out of reach.”