Join Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy for an in-depth discussion in this video Amir Abo-Shaeer: Director of DPEA, part of Project-Based Learning: STEM to STEAM.
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Amir Abo-Shaeer: Okay, so I'm Amir Abo-Shaeer and I'm the director of the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy. [BLANK_AUDIO] Amir Abo-Shaeer: It's a long journey. [LAUGH] It started out when I was probably, the best place to start was when I was in high school. I had a really fantastic band teacher. His name was Ike Jenkins. And what he modeled to me was what a teacher, mentor, coach could look like, kind of all in one, where we had a real relationship. We talked regularly. Ultimately, I was drum major in the band and so I got to work with him very closely during my junior and senior year.
And that kind of set the stage for understanding what a teacher could look like in a high school setting. And at that point I went off to college and I majored in engine physics, actually, and then later in engineering. And when I was an engineer, I was a, a grad student and I was a TA. And that reconnected me with the idea of teaching to, you know, teaching students. And I really found that it kind of just reclicked, I had always kind of had that bug in my head of maybe I would teach. And it was something that I really enjoyed. But having not had worked in the industry as an engineer, I decided it would make sense to go and be an engineer and I did that for about three or four years and just was not finding that engineering proper.
So, I still do engineering here, but engineering proper in industry was not what was going to, what was going to fulfill me. And so I you know, decided to make this big decision and left engineering and went back to school at UCSB and got my teaching credential, and that was the beginning. And I came here to Dos Pueblos High School, and it was just this very fortunate set of coincidences. They had just applied for a grant to start an engineering program. And I was a brand new teacher and they came to me and said do you want to run this program? And as a new teacher, I mean, I had had a decent amount of experience in my life but still, I knew what I was, going to be taking on.
And it was kind of like, if I don't run this, who's going to run it and I'm clearly going to be a part of it. And it would make more sense for someone with industry experience and engineering experience and all of this to come in and do this. So I, I accepted this opportunity and it's been, you know, from day one of starting as a teacher 13 years ago, I've been on the journey. And it was slow at first, you know, getting my bearings and trying to understand how school works. And we're really in the third kind of generation of this program. We kind of went through three different things and now we're in the, I think the most exciting phase that we've had so far.
[BLANK_AUDIO] Amir Abo-Shaeer: So, when I started out with the first phase, it was really just trying to understand, how do you even create high school curriculum and there were things that I didn't even know about. For example, in the state of California. You have to get the University of California to approve high school courses. And this isn't high school courses that are college level courses, this is just if you're going to offer a course in high school and you want it to count towards being something that students can put on their transcript for the admission purposes of college, UCOP has to approve it. So that was kind of this really steep learning curve of having to navigate that.
And it was actually, it was, it was challenging. Because, they were not really able to deal with courses that were very innovative. They've changed dramatically in the last, you know, 10 or 12 years. I got two courses kicked back to, to us and they said there's too much application. Which, you know, for someone like myself I was thinking the whole point is to apply this stuff and, you know, we're getting too much application. So, I was able to work through that process and get a couple courses created. And the, the first kind iteration of this ended when I had created a few courses they accepted, and we started the robotics program.
Which they did not accept, but that was for the seniors and the seniors didn't care that it wasn't UCOP approved. And it was at that point where I would say, that's the end of the first stage. The second stage of the, of the program really came about with, with bringing first robotics into this program. And what it taught me was, what students could really do. And what had happened is, I had left industry coming into school thinking, I'm just going to, you know, come in here and make all these changes and be able to do all these projects.
But school, school basically coaches you as a teacher as how to be as a teacher. The metrics we measure teachers by, for example, all my kids are getting 5's on the AP test. And everybody was patting me on the back saying this is great news, so I got, became a really good test prep guru. I mean that's, that was what I fell into. When I had the students do robotics, it was this kind of reawakening of what was possible and what I had done, and it reconnected me with what I did as an engineer. Here I was working with these students on an authentic problem. And I was watching them as they were unable to actually do the physics in an authentic way.
So I taught them for years and been sending them off to college with fives on their AP test, and now suddenly I'm actually there with my real metric, the real world metric. Can you take this physics and utilize this? And the answer, shockingly was, for the most student, for most of the students was no. And so this was now my first time doing my own kind of internal tracking of my students, because typically they take my class, they get a five, they leave. Great. So we did that, and that reframed everything. And so then I focused all my energy on making first robotics as good as it can be, to learn as much as I could from education.
And the students, because they were seniors, had the most flexibility. We could try whatever we wanted. There were no tests, no state tests for senior classes. And having the removal of those constraints, was what allowed me to be creative in that way. And I didn't know, I wouldn't have known that, you know, but that first phase was a heavily, well, I call that the constrained phase. The second phase was working in the senior year, with no constraints, kind of in this unconstrained phase. Which takes us to the third phase, which is I brought in folks from the UCOP. I showed them what we were doing with the robotics. And I asked them kind of point-blank, do you really not want us to be teaching this here? Because I can't get this type of stuff approved.
And they were, you know, looking at this going obviously that's not what we're hoping for. And so they began to work with me on how could we develop curriculum for all the grade levels, that would look like what we were doing in the senior year with the robotics. And that's where we are now. We got the curriculum approved. And now we are in, at least during the period of, we have our students for one period a day for their first three years, and then three periods a day for their senior year. And I would say we're kind of in an educational oasis. Now, in terms of being able to be creative.
I brought teachers in from the other, the rest of the school. We didn't go out and hire a bunch of people out from industry to do this with me. And watching them have the same kind of awakening I had, where suddenly the constraints are removed. And these are good constraints that we're moving, we're not, we've they're still healthy constraints, and the constrained problems lead, lead you to be creative. But being over-constrained creates a situation where you really don't end up with the best kind of product. In any. That's, I mean, that's true in anything. In engineering, you don't over-constrain a problem, and you don't under-constrain a problem. Education is an over-constrained problem right now.
There's too many people with too many interests trying to collect too much from it. And it's causing a situation where teachers are not feeling free to really try stuff. And I don't think that's why teachers got into teaching. I think they wanted to be creative and work in this very kind of, you know, special environment with kids. And to remove that I, I think is, you know, it's actually kind of criminal. So, we're now in this situation where we are, I think. Showing what's possible. And there's, you know, even teachers, like, going, how can we do this? We have teachers from around the country. Our own teachers at our own school.
People from within our, our community, saying, how can we do this? Because they're seeing the impact it's having. And so, you know, just, I would say the third phase is just care, phase of this is just characterized by just. The freedom to benevolently create, really, a wonderful educational experience, where everybody's goal is to create the best educational experience for students. And that's our focus. [BLANK_AUDIO] Amir Abo-Shaeer: The UCOP is the University of California Office of the President. And what they are is they're part of the governing body of the University of California system.
And they have offices that deal with first, for example secondary education and then offices that deal with their post-secondary education. And so their secondary education office deals with things like admissions criteria. They work to kind of keep all that between all the different university campuses, all of that coherent. And then they also added this piece after I graduated, I actually went to school here, and I didn't have all these UCOP kind of course requirements when I, when I took classes here. They added that in about maybe 1998, year 2000.
I don't know, we'd have to look that up, but sometime around then. With the purpose of making sure that the curriculum offered in high schools was quality. I mean it came from a good place. But when you have a check box list for people to look at courses. And someone submits something innovative, and the innovative course does not overlay with your check boxes. You as the reviewer, who's been tasked with this and that's your job as an, as an employee of this, of this you know, this process. You kind of have no choice but to reject it. And so and that's what the UCOP is, and that's kind of how the process came about, and that's what the, like I said, it was all with good intentions.
And so now they've realized what has happened and that is why they're, they now are having these, and I can you know now vouch for them, as really trying to do this. They're having institutes where teachers can come to where they can work to develop creative curriculum. And I think they're going in the direction of trying to address the need to allow the high schools to, you know, re, you know, reinstall curriculum that really spoke to the whole student. Instead of just kind of test driven, academic content only, you know, focus. [BLANK_AUDIO] Amir Abo-Shaeer: So the FIRST Robotics program is a competition held by a national non-profit called FIRST.
And they hold robotics competitions at every level all the way from, from elementary school up to high school. And it was founded by, an inventor, one of our you know, own in this United States inventor, Dean Cayman. He's really well known for medical industry and for doing projects that are really humanitarian in nature. Right now, for example, he's working on a water treatment for the world. Because he feels that that's really going to bring the whole world into a better place. And one of the things that he was, what was really important to him, was he saw that our culture was celebrating entertainers and sports figures.
But that they weren't celebrating, you know, scientists and engineers who were really the backbone of the technology that really all of us use and love. And so he looked at that and said, how could I create an environment that would actually encourage students to do what we really need for this country. Because it's not that he did, he thinks art and sports are, are, art and entertainment and sports are something that we shouldn't be focusing on. It's just that if all kids are aspiring to do something professionally that one, one thousandth of a percent of people are able to do.
That's kind of putting our focus on the wrong thing. And he, his, his kind of statement is, our students compete in this robotics competition. It's really a sport where everybody can become a professional at the end of it. That's how he feels, and so he created something that was exciting, felt professional, engaged industry mentors. It really feels authentic. I mean, in certain ways, obviously you're building a robot for a competition, and that's not an authentic, necessarily, experience. But the, the nature of fabricating something from scratch that has to meet a set of constraints that's using real engineering, tools, and know-how and skill-sets.
All of that's authentic, and of course, you know, there are competitions that are authentic. You know Nascar is, is authentic. I just mean it's not like going to the moon. You know, going to the moon is authentic. We're trying to get to the moon. [LAUGH] You know, every year they, they. So every year they create a different sport that these robots play against each other and with each other. It's very, very collaborative and that's really the background of what FIRST is, and. It showed me what's possible with students. I mean, students are able to do things that people would never believe were, were possible in a high school setting. [BLANK_AUDIO] Amir Abo-Shaeer: So one of the things we did that was different, and we did this because I was ignorant.
That's the reality. I didn't know how other FIRST teams ran. Is that we created the program, when we brought it in we brought it in as our senior capstone class. And unbeknownst to me when I went to the competition, everybody else does it as a four year program. As kind of a club, so you have continuity of student knowledge across four years. And they, you know, they looked at me and said, I think this is a little bit crazy. You're going to bring in new kids every year, you're going to be a rookie team every year. What they weren't really counting on was some of the benefits of this which is they're all seniors, they're egalitarian, they all have the same skill sets.
You don't have the senior telling the freshmen they don't know how to design the robot and they're all very mature. And they've also had the background of what we've been able to provide them in our program. So rather than make our entire program robot-centric and FIRST-centric, we've allowed our program to have this broad set of, of kind of engineering, and art, and design. All built into the younger years. All geared towards preparing students to be able to participate in something like FIRST. But we're even moving to the point where we're going to do other things during the senior year, in addition to FIRST. So we've incorporated it as part of the curriculum.
They get a grade, they get class credit for it, and it is the whole FIRST experience is three classes of their senior year. [BLANK_AUDIO] Amir Abo-Shaeer: We run this program like a business, and the way that came about was, back when I was just teaching regular classes, and just about to introduce FIRST, and I had created the engineering academy. I started finding myself in situations where I needed things to be produced. Like media brochures for our program, or a short little video on our program or something like that.
Or a webpage, I mean a website. I mean back in 2006, 2005, a lot of schools didn't have a website. And our program needed a website, because I was getting phone calls constantly from parents or other you know, folks in the community wondering about our program. And it was at that point that I had kind of this choice, I could either do everything myself, which is what teachers typically do. Or I could look to the only resource that I readily had available, which was the students. And, so I tried it out, it was my, my test case was a student who had done web design and I said, would you be willing to work on a web page with me.
And so we did this, I actually, we did it, there was back when there was no broadband, so it was dial-up modem speed. He would be working on the website, I was talking to him on the phone at the same time, because there wasn't any kind of chat situation. And we were developing this website. I'd email him content, he'd put it up. And we created a very high quality product. And the student didn't know all the answers. So I was coming to him as a customer saying, this is what I'd like to do. I've seen this on this website. I've seen this kind of feature here. You know, I'd like to have a, a way that kids can check their grades on the website before they had grade-based you know, internet-based grade software.
I thought, why don't we throw that on the website too? And so, he was able to implement all this, but he was also struggling just as I had remembered myself struggling as a junior engineer. And through, you know, him looking up stuff on his own, and getting help from some folks he knew. And then for me coaching him as to what the customer needed. We were able to develop this product. And it was at that point that I realized, you know, I could be giving these students these authentic experiences, because he had a great time doing it. In the context of developing my program, rather than wonder how I was going to be able to do all of this stuff by myself.
So, I started having the students help write grants with me. I had some grant writing experience, I started teaching them how to do that. We started having grants come in. Web page again. We talked about that media, any of that kind of simple basic stuff, the accounting. So we would, we were raising money. We needed to basically have a budget for especially the robotics, and they would help me kind of manage that money and bring in the money and keep track of the money and do the purchasing. So I started having them purchase stuff. They, some kids had their, you know, credit cards, their parents would allow them to use. They would actually be the purchasing agent for the Engineering Academy, and then get reimbursed so they could experience talking with, you know, a supplier on the phone and really doing that.
So we built all of that into the program from the beginning through, basically necessity. I mean, it was a by any means necessary approach for me to achieve these things. They were my resource and I found that through giving them these authentic experiences, their education was being enriched because they were taking ownership in this. And I had, I had what I had done was basically take my professional life and embed them in it. And that was powerful because suddenly, I wasn't just this teacher that they knew and I was a professional and they were the student. It was that we were working together in my professional sphere, and I was including them.
And so we took that and now we've expanded that, and so now we've got, you know, 400 students in the program. And what we've done is, I use to mentor every one of these teams. I'd mentor the grant writing, I'd mentor the PR team and it was just based on a lot of my own experience, but I'm not an industry professional in all of those areas. I just had reasonable experience in some of those, some of those areas. So now we have people from industry, some of them are our parents, you know, coming in and they work with the students on these teams. And so, we have, you know, a website team, we have an IT team. We have you know, grant writing, accounting and some of the other things I've listed.
I mean, the list goes on. Just, I guess the best way to frame it for, for the audience would be, anything that you would think you'd need to run a company or an organization, we engage the students in that aspect. Of, all those aspects and they work on these teams as part of being in the program as an auxillary function of their education. And then their education is more about the technical project based learning, the formal part of their education. And I don't want to call this informal education. Because we have kind of formalized it with these mentors.
But it's informal in that I still can't figure out a way to embed it into the regular day. Because there's not enough time in the student's schedules for them to take the types of classes that are being required by colleges for them to, to ultimately, you know, be admitted. I mean, in my vision of what we can do, we would say, this is obviously something we want students to do, and we would be able to create a course that would be very generalist, that would prepare people for the real world. But it's, it's very challenging to kind of mesh that in when you've got siloed subjects like Science, Math, English, Spanish.
I mean, these are the subjects and when you look across there, it's very difficult to find an, an authentic place to put that. And I think what really needs to happen is, college's need to look and say we want that. And they need to define that, and say we want that box to be checked, so that we then as teachers can provide students with the opportunities to have these really authentic, I think life changing experiences. That are ultimately going to prepare them I think most effectively for what they need to do when they go get their job finally. [BLANK_AUDIO] Amir Abo-Shaeer: So, I had never heard of STEAM when I decided to put art into our program.
I thought I was, you know, being pretty creative. You know? And then we put art into the program, and I got a, a request from someone to come to their STEAM conference. And I was like STEAM? What's STEAM? And so STEAM obviously, you know, the A stands for art, and there's a lot of different opinions of what the arts mean. Does it mean liberal arts? Does it mean, you know, what, what aspect of art does it mean? Is it performing arts? We're really looking at it in our program as the visual arts kind of connected with how things are made like product development, industrial design.
That's how we're incorporating it. I would say, that if you want to look at it across the board though, the business teams I talked about kind of address those other aspects of the liberal arts that are in there. But in our curriculum kind of proper that students engage with every day, the A really means, they're creating art pieces that have an engineering component and an art and design component to it. And what we've, there, there's a variety of reasons we've done this. I mean there's so many ways. Let me just try to go through these reasons. One reason that we've done this is that design and aesthetics are critical to making something, making a real product that people want to buy.
Everything that we touch, I mean, I see this guy behind the camera he's drinking from a water bottle right now. Somebody designed that water bottle to look aesthetically pleasing, so that the consumer would come to that bo, bottle and look at that bottle and go, I like that bottle more than this other bottle. Everything that we engage with in this world that, you know, is this, in the physical realm. And so, I felt that it was important to not just speak to the analytical aspect. You know? How do you manufacture the plastic of that bottle, but how do you think you want the final form to look like.
And this just came from working in industry and seeing people really not understand how to make things. You know, they were taught all these engineering skills, but they didn't know how to create anything. So, that was a very pragmatic approach. You know, part of the, part of the reasoning. And then there was the idea of I felt that lots of people were being turned away or feeling disconnected from what engineering can be, because they couldn't see the creative aspect of it. I think, we had taken it out and really distilled it down to, oh, you're good at math and science, you'd be a great engineer. Rarely, do people say, hey, you're very creative, you might be a good problem solver or designer in engineering field.
And so, it was a way to show students what engineering can be. If we hold up projects that look nothing like what they would think an engineering project looks like, and it speaks to them, it's kind of an opening of the tent. So this was a way to invite other people into the, into the tent with us, and let them know they could be part of the engineering world. Kind of like what maker has done, the whole maker movement. So now we've got our analytical students are becoming more creative, and our creative students are basically strengthening what it is to be, you know, the engineering environment. Hopefully going off and, and transforming engineering, ultimately.
And then, the last piece is something that was non, not intentional but we found out it's critical. Is that, because we are creating art pieces, these pieces are now displayed kind of in perpetuity. And where we use to have our students do projects that would go home and the parents would say, that's really cool and then it would go in the closet sit on a desk somewhere, and it was a widget that it really didn't do anything. We've now got things to actually invite people, engage people. We create an art project and people from the public come and go, I'm interested in this.
They start looking at it. It's something that draws people to actually engage with the students, and engage them in their learning experience. And what that's done, is make it so the students feel like their experience is authentic. When someone from the outside world comes in and basically wants to know about what you're doing in school from an authentic place. That's a very powerful experience for our students and our students are now experiencing that regularly. Students are not going to experience someone coming home to their parents house and seeing their test on the refrigerator and saying, you now, hey good job on that test.
That's a, that's a conversation that will never happen, but how did you make this wonderful light sculpture or kinetic sculpture and tell me about that. that, those, those are conversations that are happening now in houses all across the, you know, Santa Barbara, because of we're having these projects go out into the community. [BLANK_AUDIO] Amir Abo-Shaeer: When we had developed this program and it started to take off with the instruction of first robotics. It was my second year during first robotics and at that point, we started to really notice we were transforming culture locally.
And what I mean by that is, we had done what other people had said was impossible, which was students were feeling that it was cool. Just as Dean Kamen, you know, the inventor of First has said, it's cool to do science and engineering. So we had created that environment, and now we started to have more demand than we had space. And so as a result, I had to turn people away. And I mean, as a teacher, I mean, I'd never turn anybody away. It was come one, come all. And suddenly, you know, we were turning away first, you know, 15 kids and were accepting 32 each year.
So it's 32 kids just to give context. It's 32 kids in each grade level, is what it was when I started the program, so 128 kids. So we're turning away 15 kids, then the next year we turned away the same amount of kids we enrolled. And the year after that we turned away twice as many kids as we enrolled. And at that point, you know, I, I was like this is not right. We've done this, we've achieved this, we've made science and engineering cool, but now we're turning away everybody. And I thought, well, if we just triple the size of the program, we're going to be okay. And so I found out about a grant from the state of California, which was a matching grant.
It was a facilities grant to basically reinvigorate career-based education, and engineering is a career. They looked at California and identified 15 sectors of business that support, that are the economic engine effectively of California, and they said, we want these 15 sectors to be represented in our schools. And so engineering and design is one of them, and so, I wrote the grant and I, I didn't know what I was doing in terms of what I was biting, you know, what I was biting off. But basically wrote the grant for as much as you could write it for.
$3 million and it was a matching grant, had no idea of how I was going to raise it, but I believed, this is what I will say. I believed that if I got this grant, that this community wouldn't let, it was a competitive grant, they would not let the $3 million go to some other community. And it was with that faith in our community that I put, you know, my heart and soul into the grant. And, you know, got the grant. One of the highest scores, even though our biggest ding was what's [LAUGH] your matching money source. That was where we got points taken off. And then at that point, really rally the parents to come together to develop this, this whole program and, and really grow it.
And the idea behind growing it was we needed this facility. This unique facility that you've got, you know, you you've been able to take a tour of. So, where that goes back to then, you know, I thought okay, well we create this big facility, we enroll three or four times as many people, the world will be satisfied. Well now, we're at the situation where we put the building in place and we can allow 100 students to come in each year, 400 students total, and we're turning away 150 students each year. I've moved beyond the point of where I have kind of the heartbreaking part of this. Because I really think that what we're doing now, what gets me through this is, we now have I guess the evidence that this is what education should look like.
And so, do I view it now, as it's applying pressure to the system? If you keep growing, and you keep having demand, and you can't satisfy the demand, I mean, the only way to satisfy the demand would be to just expand across into the school. Which is a fine thing to do, we could, we could obviously that could be oh, an avenue. But the idea is how do we give students authentic educational experiences that they are excited to participate in. And I think that it doesn't just have to be in art. We've collected several fields, you know, we've got five or six fields that we engage in that students can be excited about, but there's so many different ways to do this in education.
So, I'm hopeful that what will happen is this, this the existence of this, is kind of the existence proof. You know, we exist, it's working, it's successful, is that other, others and the district, you know, our school district and even California and beyond will look to, to programs like this and say, this is what is possible. And we can do this. And why are we not doing this? What is holding us back? And I can tell you it's not money. I mean, this program costs money, but it's largely because money is being allocated toward things that we're deciding are important.
If we, if we decided this was important and shifted the funding from the things that are, you know, are not important. One of those could be, you know, do we want to measure every student with standardized testing and spend all that money, or do we want to just look at them creating projects, and see that be successful. So, so it's been positive but it has been difficult in terms of turning away students. I mean, you know, we get phone calls from parents, why didn't my student get in. And ultimately, the, the selection process is very difficult and we do our best and the selection process is really based on, you know, we're looking for a team and that's what I try to explain to people.
A lot of parents and folks ask me, even our industry partners. So you're looking for people who have had engineer training and their parents sent them to engineering camp, and no, that's not really what we're trying to do. We're, we are authentically trying to open the tent, and we're trying to bring people into this program who have the skill sets to run the whole program. And I mentioned how this program's run like a business, we can't run with a hundred kids who played with Lego's, and that's what their bringing as a skill set. Some kids who played with Legos is a great addition to our cohort.
But we're looking for people who were in theater, who are great public speakers, we're looking for people who have been on, you know, written for their school newspaper, and so they can come in and they're interested in that. And not just able to do it, but showing an interest because this, this educational program fails if we're just forcing kids to help us run the business. Our goal is to actually give the students authentic opportunities outside of what we offer in the traditional educational model that speak to them, that are basically in addition, bonuses that they can look forward to to participate in.
So that's how we, how we select students is really trying to create a team. We think of it as we're creating a group of 100 student cohort, and that student cohort needs to have strength in all the areas that it takes to make this program successful. And then we just really want students to be passionate about what their passionate about, not what I'm passionate about. I mean, that's, that's the key thing. If their passionate about whatever their passionate about, they will be a good match for this program, because we are really about following your passion here. [BLANK_AUDIO] Amir Abo-Shaeer: So with regard to diversity, we are not interested in creating a quota system.
But what I do think would be powerful, and I think that this is the direction we're moving in, is that we would like it that you walk through this building, that you see the folks on this campus. You don't see that it looks different here than it looks over there. And one, one, one area though, [LAUGH] that's interesting is that looks different here than if you go to other campuses focused on engineering, is the number of female students. And that's one thing that we have been able to one issue that we've been able to solve, I would say, a problem that, I mean, it's a problem.
If you look in engineering, computer science and all these fields. And you go and look on a college campus, you're lucky if you get in at 20%. I mean, it can be below 2% for many of the majors. You know, they'll, they'll quote things like engineering, but then include things like bi ed, bioengineering, which there's nothing wrong with bioengineering, but life sciences were an area where females have traditionally gone. But if you look at Engineering where you say computer science, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, you're going to be hard pressed to find you know, 15% breaking. We are running a program that is in those disciplines.
Electrical engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering, manufacturing, industrial design, and we're at 50%. And it didn't just happen. When I first started this program, again, back, going back to the naive, the first, there were the three phases, phase one. Phase one I offered a course called Engineering Physics, and I didn't do any recruitment, I did nothing. And I had had gender balanced classes in Physics for three or four years at this point. Offered the class, and 33 boys and two girls showed up the first day.
And when that happened, that was my personal wakeup call that something is not right. When 13 and 14 year old girls are basically writing off an entire career path we have a problem. Especially, in a, a school of 2,000 students and I'm just trying to get 32 people, which means I'm trying to get 16 girls. And we're talking about, we're not talking about you know, you know, changing the universe. We're saying, really? Out of 2000 students, 1000 girls, you know, we can get you know, 16? That, that seems a little bit insane.
So, it was at that point that I said, this is something we can solve because what I did know is that the girls, wasn't an issue of ability. It was an, we knew that we knew that if you just take gender, and you split gender males and females, and you look at ability level, because we are, we're starting at the high school, and we are an engineering program, and there's some minimum amount of ability students need to have in math and science. But if you look at ability and just divide that, the girls are equally strong as the boys, and so this is just a societal situation. And so, we're now at, I can just, you know, say proudly we have 400 students in the program, you know, as of next year.
We've got three classes so we're up to 300. And I have no concern that next year we're going to enroll, you know, 50-50, and we have, we're going to have 200 girls in this program. And again, when engineers from industry come in here, they're in here for about five minutes and then suddenly they look at me, and you know, something's different here. And then, and it really takes them a minute, and then they really, they look and they go, why are all, what's going on? Why are, there's all these girls and they're, and they're not, what's interesting is the girls are doing all the stuff that you wouldn't typically, again this is, these are all stereotypes. They're working on machines.
And I know you got, we've got footage of that. You know we got, we got imagery of that all through this building. Girls working on, on computer programming, and girls working in you know they're soldering. All of these things, and they're enjoying it. And that's the key thing. You don't see people sitting there begrudgingly doing these things. They've been empowered to do this. And we've given them the message that we are trying to empower them to be able to decide what they want to do. And not let, you know, society tell them, you know, what they need to do. With regard to ethnic diversity, that's kind of our next thing that I am interested in.
And again, not with the model of quotas, but with the model of, let's go figure out what we can do to make it so that these folks that in our community that are not being represented, feel that they can be welcome. And if there's a, you know, a situation where there's lack of preparation for certain groups, certain sub groups, then the question is, what can we do? And what we're doing right now is we actually send our own students out and they do what's called service learning. It's part of our program, we get grants to support this. And our students are able to go out and do service learning in the community, mentoring Lego robotics teams in the elementary schools or doing tutoring in the junior highs.
And so we've built this all in as part of the culture, is to actually build that, you know, base of students that we're going to be drawing from. But its really a matter of, of enabling those students to apply and when those students apply, they're going to end up being brought in just in the natural cross section, just how everything else is, has played out. WIth, with girls, it was just a matter of getting them to apply. And once they applied, it wasn't, it wasn't a concern. You know, people always asking me, it's like, there's no affirmative action. It was just, bring these folks to the application process.
Make them feel like they can be a part of this, and they will you know, apply. And we can admit them in a totally natural, you know positive way. Yeah, I've got a couple stories. One, one's a recent story. It's just the last couple days that I heard this. I went over to one of our sponsors, and this just really, this is the story that really kind of ties together the community and shows how, you know, I had this faith in this community. But it shows what a community can do when they, when they all work together. So, I had a student and he was on a robotic team in 2009. And we have a sponsor Valley Precision Products, who's helped fabricate our parts.
And he had gone over there many times and worked with those, those folks over there to help them, help us by fabricating our parts. And so, one, he was getting experience working with a real you know, manufacturing setting and being able to learn how to communicate properly with these people who understand manufacturing and want to help you get your product, you know, made properly. And then, two he was building bridges within the community. Well, he went to UCSB, and now he's working at another local company. And, in the process, they've been trying to manufacture something. And at this point, I think I can't use company names, so I'm just, they've been trying to manufacture something, and they've been, they were utilizing China.
And they were having a real problem making this product in China. And so, he then went to Valley Precision Products, which is local and said, do you think there's a way we could figure out how to do this? And, I, the, I mean, the first there's, he had this connection, this authentic connection, with the community of people he knew, knew how to make stuff well. I mean, that's one of the things that he learned from participating in our program that I had always said is, we're working with these guys and the quality that they will produce that they're giving us for our robot parts is second to none. They're not cutting any corners.
They're, they're wanting to help us create a really wonderful product. So, you know, he took that connection, and then went and talked to them, and now they're collaborating together. And when I spoke to the guys at Valley Precision, they said It's so awesome to be able to, we met this guy and he said, and,and he was looking at one of our, the photographs of our robotic teams and they said, they asked him, they said, are you in that picture? He said, and he said, oh no, but I'm, I'm in that other one over there. You know, because they have a lot of photos of all the teams, because they've supported us over the years. And so, they thought that was funny that he was, in fact, in one of the teams.
And then they talked about how he understands how to manufacture, and because of that, he was able to work with them. And they're able, they were able to actually create the part here, and make it about, I mean, from what I could see, I saw the part substantially better than what would, they could ever have hoped for in China and at a lower cost. And so when I look at that, to me that tells more of the story of like, yeah, there's these, there are student stories and, you know, this student benefitted here. But to me, it's really about the community and it's, we are a part of this community.
And I think that people in our community, businesses, et cetera, really need to understand that if they support schools that it will pay back, and it's not just lip service. It's not like, oh, I swear it'll pay back. It really will all come around. There will be benefits because you've engaged with the system, because you've engaged with the people. The, the all of the, the you know, the connections that people make, the human connections, the just understanding like, oh, I didn't know, I know this company exists now. All of that can just make a whole community so much stronger.
And I, I really think that's the powerful message that I've learned is that you, you can ask the community for help and they will come in and support you. And that they will, even if they're just coming in to help you, just from, just completely altruistic you know, an altruistic bent or background, they're going to end up gaining from it. Somehow, it's going to come back in a positive way, and make a difference in their lives as well. And its just, its a powerful thing, and it's, and it's true and I just, I hope that people can get that message and understand that. And for anybody watching, you know, this, you know, or trying to look into this, you know, in your own community, you can reach out to your community and your community can work together to make a difference and collaboratively change things in all different areas, so.
[BLANK_AUDIO] Amir Abo-Shaeer: One of the things that people always said to me when we were going to do this program was they said, well Amir, you know, you are unique, this program is not replicable. You can't grow it and, and I, I really didn't believe that, because as much, you know, these are folks from the outside who are looking in, reading articles about teachers and teacher quality, and just thinking that everybody is a bad teacher and we just need to start over and throw the whole thing out. And it's really not true. I mean, there are so many fantastic teachers who are out there trying, and caring, and passionately trying to pursue their, their goals.
And I would say when I, when I talk to people, I'd say the one thing that I had that I would say is maybe, my off the charts thing, is the tenacity. Like, I was willing to just continue and continue and continue. But the other attributes are pretty typical across the majority of teachers that I run into that are, you know, that are effective teachers. So, I had confidence that with my tenacity to kind of get the ball rolling, I could bring these other teachers in, and bring them in and they would be able to embrace and implement this type of education rather effectively. And we, we've really found that to be true.
So, we've had to, training has been an issue, because we really are working in an environment where everything is kind of interdisciplinary. And so, right now, people are very comfortable in their own disciplines, and they're kind of reaching out into the other disciplines. But there's power in the fact that the teachers can't do everything our students are doing. It, it's powerful for students. It's, it's, there's two things that are going on here. So, the projects the students are creating require the individual expertise of the four or five teachers that are working with them.
And none of those teachers can really do the entire project even on their own right now. We are not actually capable on our own. Like, I can't program the light sculpture, as an example. And so, for students to see that teachers are lifelong learners and don't know the answers, and for teachers to be put in a position where they have to really just have the self-esteem to not know and to be comfortable with that, that's really actually a benefit for the students. Because then students can look and go, everybody's learning all the time.
It's not like I'm in this place, and there's a fixed amount of knowledge, and I get this fixed amount of knowledge dropped in my, in my head, and then I;m good to go. It's ,everybody around me is learning. My teachers are learning. Nobody knows all the answers. We're going to, and, with the robotics I mean, nobody knows the answers. We're inventing something new every time. It's a project where we get constraints, and we're solving a robotics problem right now, and I've never solved this game before. So, we're all in this together. And so, what it's done is it's now put that in all the grades. We've got the, you know, the ninth, tenth, and eleventh are also seeing the same type of thing with the robotics, where a student comes to you with an idea and you don't know the answer.
And you say, well let's work together. Why don't you go research it, and I'll put my expertise, and together we can come to some kind of conclusion. So, our teachers, I think, have been embracing this, and are really excited about it. I think they're embracing the idea to develop professionally. So, we hear this word professional development, and a lot of the times the professional development that we try to offer teachers is not really that exciting. I mean, I think it's way more exciting for example, you know Kristin, who teaches in this space she was in the machine shop today learning how to machine. And she was learning from a UCSB student who, we partnered up with UCSB, who we trained here how to machine to help teach our students so we could lower our teacher ratio, and now he's giving back to help her, you know, learn how to machine.
So, she's building her skill set, and again it comes back to this whole community. We've built a community that is kind of nurturing itself. And it's like, he's learning how to become a teacher because he might interested in being a teacher, ultimately. But then he's learned this skill set as an engineer, and as someone working in our program. I don't have time right now to help or I keep telling her, I'm going to help you and now I'm walking by and he's helping her. And I'm looking at that going, this is wonderful. I, I've been wanting, it's like, to get this thing where I can keep, you know, training all the teachers in all these different domains and we're just running on empty right now, all trying to keep our own domains going.
And so, to see the community come together, and actually help that professional development happen naturally, which again, I just saw that today, was just, again, another example of the whole community coming together achieved that. [BLANK_AUDIO] Amir Abo-Shaeer: I did use the standardized testing metric and saw it's outcome both on the standardized test end and then on the ability to use this in the real world end. And so, what I found, going back to the AP physics, was that I was able to be an excellent test prep coach and they were able to get what they needed on their resume, which was a five on that AP test.
But then if I tracked them and said, are they authentically learning physics? I was seeing gaps in how to really utilize the physics. And that was because there was such a focus on breadth, and such as lack of focus on depth. And I think it's because we are of an old mindset educationally, where you need to have the content in your head, because that's how you're able to contribute. Well, humans aren't good at keeping content in our head. It's a, that's not really what humans are, are, are, they've done, I mean, people have done done this, the analysis.
People are great at synthesizing and analyzing. With the ability to share information with the newest tech, the newer technology. Let's just use the internet as a baseline. You don't need to store information in your head anymore. You need to be able to deal, you, you still need to learn it and understand it and comprehend it. But you really need to be able to synthesize, process, analyze and, and think in that way. And so, I think we need to move away from this whole, you know, breadth concept and really embrace the idea that you don't need to have seen everything. If you learn something in depth, you can go online and go learn about this new topic and connect to it.
Because of the depth you have in this area, you will be able to then increase your breadth. If you've done everything with breadth but no depth, what really ends up happening is it's, it's, it's kind of an insult to what education can be. A year later, you ask someone, do you know anything? Oh, yeah, I took that class last year. I don't know, it's out of my brain. I can't remember anymore. You know, I forgot everything I learned in college. I mean, these are the comments that we make. And I think that that's, that's not how education should, should look. So, in terms of how we've been dealing with standards, I look at that as I've seen what the metrics have provided.
And I've seen how that, kind of, translated to when people ultimately need to do something in the real world. And I've seen a mismatch. And so, I used to try to defend what we were doing, and say, you know, look, there going to do fine on the standardized test because we're covering a lot of the same stuff. And they're going to do this project, you know, and it's a bonus. And now, what I would say to someone is, my students may not do as well on the standardized test that they've been prepped for. But, I'm going to turn the question back to you. How well would your student who's done the standardized course, do on building this light sculpture? And which is going to, ultimately, be more important in the real world? And when I thought about that, and it seems to me so obvious now, it's like everyone discounts the product the kid made.
They want to know how they're going to do on the standardized test. But then they don't take into account that the kid that went through the standardized test program, can't do this other thing. And which do we really value, and why? So, that's my new, kind of, turn around is I'm not really going to meet you on your, how are they going to do on your metric. I want to know how your kids are going to do on my metric. And I want to ask you which more, which metric is more authentic? And which person would you hire, the kid who got the five on the AP test, or the kid who built the light sculpture? If you're a mechanical engineering company, and you know this kid knows how to process metals and materials, and has designed this and understands machinery, and they've done well in school, maybe had slightly lower test grades, I'm going to choose the kid who knows what they're doing.
Not the kid who comes to me with perfect grades, and can't tell me anything they've ever done other than school. [BLANK_AUDIO] Amir Abo-Shaeer: So, this isn't a question that I can't answer that, this is a question where we are just beginning to get those metrics. And we don't, I don't have good data for you that I could convince, that I could speak to that'll sound as good as what I just talked about. It's not because it's not there. It's kind of like the the story I just told you about the kid, like, that's my I have all these anecdotal pieces of information. So, I have an anecdotal sore, you know, situation where every kid that gets an internship in our program, you know, they go off.
And the people are often thinking well, we're going to take on this high school student as a favor to the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy. And the student comes in after their senior year doing robotics and hits the ground running, and is actually able to make products for the company right off the bat, and be able to hit the ground running. And even though they don't know the, they don't have the anat, the analytical skills, like, they maybe haven't done the, you know, like, let's say they're building something that requires a thermodynamic analysis. Maybe they haven't done that, and they have to get help from their mentor, but that's something they would learn in college, but they know the nuts and bolts of how to get something done, and how to ask the right questions.
And so, I've had consistent feedback from the folks that let our kids come and be interns and that's part of the partnerships that we engage with, with them just saying, you know, I never, I couldn't believe how much this kid was ready to hit the ground hit the ground running. I mean, I, anecdotal story, kid worked at a place for for the summer as a mechanical engineer and they said to him, you know, you don't need to go to college. If you want to just stay here, we'll just pay you a mechanical engineering salary and you can just keep on working. And the kid didn't do that because, you know, felt that that's, you know, that's not a safe bet right now.
But I will say this, that's where education probably is going to go, because I think people are going to start looking at alternate ways for people to learn, you know, via the Internet, via all these different experience-based learning processes. And, I think people will look and say, what have you done, and what do you know, and what can you do? And then say, you know what? We need you to learn something about thermodynamics uh,take this online thermodynamics class as part of your on the job training. I'd much rather they do that at night or whatever as, as my employee and be able to work in my program then they come with all this academic knowledge and they can't actually again, you know, do anything.
So, those are just some anecdotal stories. What I can say is over 80% of our students that graduate, even though this is not our intent, go into stem fields, go into stem majors and, and stick with it. We aren't trying to create stem majors. We're trying to create a stem steam experience for the students so that, because you, if they go to, if they go to high school, they're going to have a steam experience. Its just going to be, you know, disconnected. They're going to have all these silos, I did some S, I did some T, I did some EAM, you know? Yay. We're integrating this all together ,and what we're really trying to do is provide them with an authentic experience in steam so that they go forward as a technologically, artistically literate person in our society.
And by literate I mean knowing how to really work in those media. If they're going to work at a company, chances are many companies are going to produce a product, and even if they're on the business side of it, having had all this experience in our program of what it takes to make a product is going to enhance their, their skill sets. So, again, we have a significant portion, even though that's not the intent, go into STEM. And we're just starting to track kind of where people are as graduates. I think our first, the class that we consider our first graduating class, graduated from college about a year ago.
And I know where a few of them are. I mean, they're at Google, they're at, you know, Raytheon. They're working as engineers. They're out there. But we're just getting to the point where we're going to start, you know, mapping that out, because it's, that's, that's kind of part of phase four, also. It's, we want to go out and replicate this, and we haven't really had the brain space to even track people. I mean, it's been hard enough just to track what we're doing, you know, day to day. But the idea is, in phase four when you want to replicate, you really are going to have to show some of these types of things. And the anecdotal stories will go a long way, but I think having some, you know, people love data.
We're a data driven society. So, being able to provide them with the data, where our students are is going to be something that's part of our next piece. [BLANK_AUDIO] Amir Abo-Shaeer: We're just in the, kind of this email contact building back up our, our connectivity. And so, we looked at like, you know, some of like, I know you know, one of my first graduates he's at Georgia Tech and he's getting a PhD in mechanical engineering. Another one of our first gradu, first graduates of the, 2007 was our first kind of graduating class, you know, he's at Raytheon locally. So a girl graduated 2007.
She's up at Google right now. Another girl that graduated in 2007, she's working for, it might be, it might be Amjan or one of these other bioengineering companies. So, I mean, I've, we're, this is how I know them. I know them as we graduated 32, it was maybe 28 students that year, and you know, this is just me from my own memory, just kind of oh, there's four of them, and they're tracked in this very loose way, but the idea is to really get that all kind of mapped out. But yes, definitely they're going onto po, they're, they're in all different things. They're, but, they're in, you know, in the industry. [BLANK_AUDIO].
Amir Abo-Shaeer: In our program, one of the things that's very important is that we really do want people to engage with the public. And we start that out early with the student,s because the public is in here all the time. And I want to know that I can just walk up to a student with someone I'm touring through the program and say, talk to me about what you're doing. And I want them to know that they're going to be expected to kind of be able to do that. We're setting the, the bar already this is what we're expecting. we're expecting you to engage with the public. And what's cool is, it's an authentic engagement. I think having a student do a presentation, just to do a presentation of the class, it's good practice, but it's not the same thing as being able to just speak extemporaneously to someone who came in, and to be able to present what it is that you actually are learning.
So, over the course of the years, we've really worked on PR and presentation skills. And so, as I, what I started with was my seniors, and I said, once we started in the robotics, I said, we've got to get this out here. This is how we are going to raise money. I mean really. We're going to put this product out there that's very visible. We're going to educate the community as to what it is, and engage them. And that was the beginning of our, our really active use of students in terms of PR, in terms of creating, creating a script. I mean, it sounds, we would create a script that basically sounded like it was extemporaneously delivered, but that was more conversational in nature, where people were coming in and going, this is what I worked on, and etc.
And people have always commented to me that it's really amazing how, you know, our students are able to do this. And it's, I think it's because we are giving them the opportunity to do it in these authentic ways. We have, you know, I keep using this word authentic, we have these, or an open house, and we've had our students come up to us and say two things. One, is you should have every kid do open houses, because they'll realize how much they learned. You know, I, I come to your program every day, and I think it's pretty cool. And then I start talking to somebody, and I realize, man I've learned a ton of stuff in this one hour a day that I'm with you right now, or when they're a senior, in my four years with you.
And then the other thing is they talk about how great it is to be able to share with the public, and talk, and really, you know, build their kind of natural public speaking skills. Because, I think especially now, you know, everybody's in their little iPhones, and they're, they're texting, and we're losing that. So, I, it's important for, for us. We, we are very technological in terms of what we engage the students in, but we are also very social. And our students are always working in pairs, they're working collaboratively. And we try to minimize their time where they're actually engaging with a screen. If they're engaging with a screen, they could be doing that at home.
Why are they here? So, we really feel pretty strongly about the whole idea that, if you're in the building, you should be doing something here that you couldn't do at home, and you certainly can be looking at a screen at home. Now, that doesn't mean we do that dogmatically. We have a computer lab. People need to design stuff, but they're usually partnered with someone, and they're, hey what are you doing. And then if they have a problem, our teacher will say, ask your neighbor first. Engage, you know? You're with other human beings here. It's not just about you and the screen. [BLANK_AUDIO] Amir Abo-Shaeer: I think the most important thing that I've learned doing this program, and I think that the teachers are learning, I think the community's learning, is what is possible in education.
And I think that we sell ourselves short talking about things like standardized testing, and how are we doing up against China and what position are we in the math and English. I mean these are not, it's not that these things are not important, but we are a culture based on innovation and that's what's' really made us successful. And I think if we stick to that, and we stick to what we're good at, and focus on that, and stop focusing on what everybody else is, is doing or measuring ourself against everybody else, and really just focus inwardly on being, you know, who we have always been as a, as a nation.
I think we can do it, and I think the kids demonstrate it every day. I think people walk in this building and the, you know, there's two things that they say. One is I want to go back to high school. And two is, I cannot believe that students are able to do this. And I, I think that it's just, it's a powerful thing to be able to show, show folks what, what kids can do. And, you know, that's kind of where I, what I'd, my, my big message.
When you're done watching the documentary, make sure to check out the bonus conversations in the Interviews chapter.