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Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

Jennifer Jones, a first-year student at Bakersfield College, carefully injects DNA samples into a gel during the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement Program's "Week Zero." The program, made possible by Chevron, enables new students to jump right into the fields they are interested in.

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Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

Professor Joe Saldivar demonstrates how to inject DNA samples into a gel during the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement Program's "Week Zero."

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Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

Jose Jaramillo, a first-year student at Bakersfield College, suctions a DNA sample into a pipette during the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement Program's "Week Zero."

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Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

From left, Jyll Hernando, Pam Matthews and Andrew Raymond compile an informational brochure on solar cooking. Their class during the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement Program's "Week Zero" has focused on building a solar oven that generates enough power to cook cornbread, cookies and brownies.

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Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

During MESA's "Week Zero" at Bakersfield College, one group of students led by Professor Klint Rigby constructed solar ovens that generated enough power to cook cornbread, cookies and brownies.

Jyll Hernando on Monday will begin her college career.

The 18-year-old future engineer is taking a full load at Bakersfield College that includes chemistry and calculus, and to relieve a little stress, tennis.

"I'm so nervous," said Hernando, an Independence High graduate. "But luckily I'm getting prepared."

Hernando is one of 60 students who got a jump start this past week by participating in "Week Zero," a week-long, science-based orientation through the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement program at BC.

In Week Zero, students learn college survival skills, get to know fellow students and professors, and experiment a bit in non-graded courses. The 60 are chosen for the program based on their intentions to seek careers in STEM fields, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics .

That includes students like Pam Mattheus, who is hoping to soon be a petroleum engineer. The 48-year-old has worked as a petroleum engineering technician for 23 years, and is starting college courses Monday in hopes that the education will launch her to a higher-paying job.

This week, in a group, she built a cardboard "solar oven" that bakes brownies and cooks rice by harnessing the sun's heat. She's also getting to know how college works, and who to go to for help.

"I'm getting to know the professors closely," Mattheus said. "This week is helping a lot."

In other classes, students are analyzing DNA to solve fictitious crimes, studying wind power and breaking down the composition of orange juice, among other things.

For BC professors like Klint Rigby, the program gives them a chance to work along their students in an intimate, smaller group setting rather than a full room or lecture hall.

"I get to really know them, and they get to know each other," said Rigby, who has been involved in Week Zero for three years.

Week Zero is made possible by a BC-Chevron partnership that started in 2008. The oil company started giving $20,000 each year to offer the program to more students and pay for class materials (this year it gave $25,000).

Adam Alvidrez, Chevron spokesman, called Week Zero an effective STEM boot camp. In recent years, Chevron has given millions to local K-12 schools and Cal State Bakersfield for science-based research programs, like REVS-UP and Project Lead the Way.

Officials hope students will stay on the STEM track throughout community college, get STEM-based degrees at the local university, and one day work for the company here.

"Programs like these are good for Kern County and good for California's future," Alvidrez said.

Back in the BC classrooms Wednesday, a group of seven students played Crime Scene Investigation, analyzing DNA by using the same tools professionals use in pharmaceutical companies and research labs, said biology professor Joe Salvidar.

"This is a great opportunity for them to get ahead," he said.

Jennifer Jones, 30, and Sheri Craig, 17, said they're ready for classes to start after taking part in Week Zero. And Craig said she recently made up her mind -- she wants to work in forensics.

"I'm getting to use all this equipment, and I like it," Craig said. "I'm definitely sticking with science."