Join Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy for an in-depth discussion in this video Lynda interview with alumni, part of Project-Based Learning: STEM to STEAM.
Speaker 1: Okay, I'd like you to start by each introducing yourselves and telling us what you're doing today. I know you're all graduates of the program. Luke Seal: All right, my name is Luke Seal. I graduated in 2009. I went to Princeton and I came back, and I work as a mechanical engineer at a company called New Seal here in Nico: My name is Nikko I graduated in 2008 and then I went to UCSB and I'm now a mechanical engineer for Raytheon Vision Systems. Nicole Showser: And I'm Nicole Showser. I was class of 2010 and now I study material science and engineering up at Berkeley.
Speaker 1: Wow, that's pretty impressive how do you think that the program influenced your decision to do what you're doing today? Luke Seal: It's huge, I mean, doing, doing robotics is what convinced me to study mechanical engineering in college, and really what convinced me that it was what I wanted to do for, with my life. So I'm, I'm very happy that I've found the job that I have where I get to do it as a job. Nico: Yeah, I think for me I always kind of knew I was going to go into engineering of some sort, because my dad always said I was so lazy that I'd kind of come up with new ways to do stuff and make it quicker.
And then when I got into the engineering academy, it was going from me having this thought process of, of kind of what it was, or what engineering was and then actually really experiencing it and going, hey this is like five times cooler than I ever thought it would be, and it was at that point that I said, okay cool, like that's it I'm done, there's no more decision making, this is what I want to do. Nicole Showser: Yeah, I think for me the engineering academy really gave me the opportunity to cement my passion for science and engineering, especially in an environment with a 50/50 female/male ratio where I felt really comfortable.
And there was a lot of teamwork and everybody, you know, just, we all worked together to complete all these projects, especially during robotics. And kind of going through that experience and seeing that this is something that not only was I good at, but I felt really happy and I really enjoyed doing it really, is what showed me that this is what I want to do. Speaker 1: That's really cool. We haven't heard that much from students about the actual robotics experience.
And since you've all gone through that experience can you talk a little bit about what it meant to you, and what you got out of it? If you could, you know, summarize, I know it's a, it's a big part of your life, big chunk, but if you could just summarize about kind of, maybe, what some of the key takeaways were from that experience, and- Luke Seal: It's really the first time that I was put in a situation where I was doing something that I really, truly wanted to do. It was like, I mean I, it was second semester of senior year of high school which is when most people are being lazy, and I, I mean, I would get out of school and think, and go to robotics and think I can't think of anything else I would rather be doing than this.
So I just spent all my time there because it was an easy decision. I had nothing better to do, and it was so much fun and it was so engaging and so, you know, so difficult also, it was so challenging that like, you had to work so hard to, to do it, and it was such a worthwhile endeavor, pretty much, to do the work that we were doing, but I was so happy to do it and spend all my time on it. And I'm really proud of what we did and really proud of the work that I did, and I'm you know, endlessly happy that I did it.
Nico: I think for me the, the phrase that always comes to mind is close the deal. It's, one, it's something that Amir says kind of constantly to us and drills in, and it's always stuck with me. Robotics for me is kind of that one thing I really look at in my life where I took something from beginning to end and experienced the entire track of it. In that I mean I never lost focus on it, and was just constantly dedicated to seeing it completed, to seeing the robot built, and failure was just not an option. And, and, with homework, and when I, you know, being in high school, or even in college, yeah, I think I might do, I might not do it, but with this it was, I that, that's it, It's getting done, I have to do it.
And that's, it really, it drives home the dedication, and the work ethic that's necessary to really achieve success and to see something completed in a, at a very high level. Luke Seal: I entirely agree with that. Nico: Yeah. Nicole Showser: Yeah, I mean, as Luke said, this is kind of the first real experience where I was truly challenged with what I was doing, where I really had to bring a lot more creativity, and a lot more dedication to the work than I had previously had to in any kind of school classroom experience.
And I also learned to deal with failure, and expecting really unexpected things to happen. One thing that I remember was that five and a half weeks into the build season, we attached the wheel modules that I had designed to the chassis of the robot, and tried to drive it over the bump that we had to for the competition. And we drove up the bump and then we got stuck, and the reason for that is I decided that we wanted to save a little weight. So I shaved some height off of the wheel module and then we no longer had the clearance that we needed to go over the bump.
And that was a really stressful scenario cause then I knew it was, it was my fault. This was, kind of my, my failure and then we had to kind of really sit down and I spent all night with Mr. Shier and we, we kind of, figured out this work around and brought it to the machine shop the next day and really cranked everything out. So I mean, in the end everything worked out but really going through that process and seeing that, you know, something that you kind of expect to work out because everything in my life had, in one way or another, kind of worked out to that point. And really having to go through that, and see that not everything works out and you really have to be ready to, to rethink your design and constantly improve upon it.
I think that was a really key experience that I had in the program. Speaker 1: One of the things that strikes me is how everyone speaks of Mr. Shier in this way like he's your best friend, and did that relationship that you had with your teacher, was that in itself a new thing for any of you to really be close to a teacher? And can you talk a little bit about how if that was meaningful to you, and, and what effect that had? Luke Seal: I mean, you spend a lot of time with all of your teachers, but you never really work on anything with your teachers.
Your teachers tell you what to do and you do it, and they you what you need to know and you learn it. But this is the first time where it's like, you're with a teacher and you're both working on the same thing together. And it was really you know, that's new and if you spend as much time with anyone, as you spend like with the people you do robotics with, like you will get to know them and get to like them. And yeah it's, that was definitely unusual and you know, it's his personality, you know, he couldn't do what he does if he wasn't a likable person.
So it's his personality to, you know, inspire his students to work really hard. And I definitely was and I was, you know, really happy to, to do all the work. And, you know, I'm back here. I'm mentoring again to do more work for him just like I was in high school. So I'm yeah, that was, it's definitely unusual. I never even thought about how, you know, strange that is to like, to have worked so much with your high school teacher, but really it doesn't seem strange to me at all because I was happy, so happy to do it. Nico: I think I'm, I'm going on I think it's going to be ten years that I've known Mr. Shier and it's, I think for me I feel really lucky in that I got to stay in Santa Barbara for school.
And so I never really broke contact with him. And even once I, obviously, during, Luke talked a lot about, you know, during robotics how it is working with him, for me that was extremely meaningful. But then what was even more on a personal level for me was the mentorship that he provided for me even after, as far as decisions while I was in college, career choices. I mean, I can think of a hour and a half conversation in the teacher's parking lot where he's sitting at the end of his car, and I'm standing there, and we're just chatting about what I should do, or, about my major for school, and what really the direction I want to go in.
And this is something that it's been extremely valuable for me, and he's, he's, he continues to be a great mentor and someone I really respect in my life. And I guess that his personality and the fact that he genuinely cares about each and every one of his students, makes it that much easier to put in all of this work, and all of this effort to help him create the academy and to help progress things for it. Speaker 1: Yeah, I think one of the things that he talked a lot about was teachers learning along with students, and it sounds like that's what really resonated for all of you was that he was solving along side of you, not for you? Nico: he'll, he'll use, he'll admit every time when he's wrong, and that he doesn't know it, he loved saying it, you know, I don't know it, we got to learn this together.
So he, he's, in that like you say, it makes it that much easier for us to kind of sit there and we're going to say, okay, he's not this deity of a, of an educator, he doesn't know everything he's right there learning with us, so it helps us relate with him. Nicole Showser: Yeah, I think that really kind of empowered the students to do all of the work on their own. Because it wasn't, it's not like other problems that you have in classes where you know there's a solution. You know it's been solved, and you can either look it up and go to the teacher and they'll know the answer. This is something that you really have to work on together, and get through together, and there's no, there's no fixed solution out there.
And I think that's something that he makes clear, and then kind of really works with all of the students and shows that he cares about each student getting to the goal. I think that was a really great and like, integral part of what he does here at the program. Luke Seal: Yeah, I'd say it's clear that he's committed to everybody learning while they're doing stuff, and he's, I mean, he's constantly saying, when you talk to him about something, he'll constantly say, does that make sense? He is like constantly checking that you're understanding what's going on, it's like, make sure that you're learning and like, you're on board with what's going on, and that's, that's, that's unusual.
I mean, you don't encounter a lot of teachers that are, that you know, you can tell they really are very interested in you learning what they're, what they're teaching. Speaker 1: I know you all learned a lot of technical skills, but do you feel like you also learned some social skills in this project-based process? Nicole Showser: What I think is so great about the Engineering Academy is that you not only doing the engineering side of things, but you can get involved in all aspects of the program. And you really get to see what it takes to run a program of this magnitude so students get involved in grant writing and presentations there's a, there's a lot of other kind of teams that make up this program.
And I think from all of that you learn so many important communication skills and teamwork and leadership skills, and so it's, it's definitely much bigger than just the engineering side of things. Speaker 1: See that, and then I am also intrigued, I know that Nicole has been in school so you haven't really had the chance to come back and be a mentor, but the two of you have come back to be mentors, and do you think that the program instilled a sense of, you know, giving back? You know, you're seeing parents involved, community members involved, your teacher is involved and now you're becoming mentors, so can you talk a little bit about that quality specifically? Luke Seal: I mean, I had such a great time when I was here.
And my mom has been hugely involved in it and I've talked to her a lot about it also. And the way I feel is like the, the Engineering Academy is just such an amazing and, you know, powerfully good thing, that it's just something I want to be a part of. Like a, it's so, you know, it's doing so much good for so many people that I, I just want to be around it, you know, I want to do what I can and be around people who are working on it. Nico: It definitely, I mean, for, for me it's, I've gotten involved a lot with kind of the outreach portion within the academy itself and I think that I'm forever grateful to the academy because that showed me how good it feels to give back.
Just being involved in the, the first presentation, I can still remember the first presentation I did and the feeling afterwards and how much I loved it. Just because it's, it's great to be able to kind of wake up in the morning and say hey the, you know, what I did yesterday, or what I'm going to do today has an extremely positive impact on the lives of not only, you know, the kids that we meet with and we mentor everyday, but some of the parents that we talk to, too. And it's kind of seeing that and seeing how grateful they are for, for the help that we're, we're able to give them kind of through the academy is, is awesome, and it, it, it's a, a level of kind of joy that I really can't put to words.
Speaker 1: That's what's so striking, is the enthusiasm of every single stakeholder in the process, and you so rarely see that in any other situation, it's, it's infectious, Iike, you know, I hear it in your voices and every single person we interviewed, sort of had that same up attitude about it, so very cool. Do any of you have any kind of closing thoughts about the program itself, or this type of learning, or anything at all related to what we've been talking about? Luke Seal: I would say that it's, it's unusual, and it's unfortunate that it's so unusual, because I feel like, you know, I've learned so much more from doing this kind of thing than from being in class.
And doing this in high school and then going to college and having to sit in class all day made me wish that I was back here doing this, or doing something like this. Because it was, you know, it's just so much more engaging. And, it feels like you learn a lot more having, you know, working this way instead of sitting in lectures and doing problem sets. And you know, I honestly, I just feel lucky Like I ended up in the right place and I signed up. And I got in and I did it and, you know, I could very well have not done any of that, so I'm, that's how I feel, I just feel really lucky to be a part of it and very happy to continue to be a part of it.
Nico: I definitely, I agree Luke on that, and just kind of speaking as kind of one of the oldest of the three of us and who's been out the longest, the interactions I've had with industry engineers, and, these kind of managers that are looking to hire young, young junior engineers, the skills that students are getting from the academy is exactly what they're looking for. And of the, in my experience, those that I've talked to who have worked with students from, from the Engineering Academy are extremely happy with what they've seen and are eager to find more junior engineers and more interns and students that are coming out of here.
Because the skill sets that they're coming with are just, they allow you to do your job, and they allow you to do it extremely well and, you know, a lot, all the kids that come out of this usually have a great attitude and are excited and hyped-up about engineering and I think that's great. Like Luke says, it's a rare thing. You know, you, seeing, kind of the, the, I think if, if I was to say, if I took my class from the Engineering Academy my graduating class and my graduating class from college, I would say kind of the, the smiles afterwards from the Engineering Academy were on a whole other level.
And getting, getting that, that I guess, diploma or certificate of completion from, of the Engineering Academy when I, before I graduated high school, kind of surpassed graduating from high school for me. I think that handshake from Amir of, and finishing up, and saying that I actually went through the entire four years of the academy was something that I am very, very lucky and grateful for. Luke Seal: The other thing is like the kinds of skills that, that we do here, the kinds of things we do here are much closer to what people do in the real world than what you learn in college.
And like, it's you know, that's more of a criticism of college then than anything. Luke Seal: But, it's, I'm just, that's the thing, I'm just so glad I did it because like I, I mean I got my job and I went there and I, I know a lot already, I mean there's lots that I don't know, but I know a lot already about about what I have to be doing and the kinds of things I know. And, I know that if I hadn't done this, and I'd just gone to school and then taken this job, I would be so much further behind than I am. Nicole Showser: Yeah, I mean, it's just a really unique educational experience that really defies what you think a traditional education should be like, and yet provides so much more than that traditional education.
Kind of having this really hands-on, project-oriented learning really carries through to giving you life skills. You don't just learn stuff for a textbook for a test you really learn stuff for life and build teamwork skills, leadership skills, creativity I can say hands down that this was one of the best experiences of my life and has really affected every major decision since then. Luke Seal: Also something that I thought was that the, at least for my team, the way that I felt was that as a team we were greater than the sum of our parts.
Like what we achieved working all together, was so much more than what we all could have done adding up individually. And that, you know, that was a big lesson to, to be a part of a team and, you know, because you can't do everything. You have your part and you have to do your part as well as you can and you have to trust everyone else to do their part. And, you know, we have a good leader, who's good at organizing teams, in Mr. Shier, but you know, that, that is unusual, and you don't get that very many places, to, like, really learn what it is, to work on a team, and work on something really hard, and for a long time together on something.
Nico: And it, it develops some pretty strong friendships I'd say, and some strong bonds, and some of, they, Luke and I were just commenting about, about this beforehand. Just our, our buddy Turk, and how much we love, and how much we loved working with him while were in the Engineering Academy and, and several others, and kind of list just goes on. You're with your fellow students for so long that eventually you just, it's like one big happy family by the end of it, and yeah, there's ups and downs here and there. But when it's all said and done, it's really the bonds and the camaraderie that's kind of developed within it, it, it's irreplaceable.
Luke Seal: I mean I still have reunions with the people on my team. Like when we're all back in town from college for, for like Christmas or whatever we'll all get together and like, a lot of people show up and it's, and we're all really happy to see each other. It's kind of just like old times, but, yeah, it's, you know, I'll be friends with those people forever, for sure. Speaker 1: It's the thing that strikes me as just how much ownership you were all given at such a young age to accomplish something big and bigger than you, and you know, how it's sort of almost as if college afterwards is even dumbing down the expectations from what you had here in this program.
And it's, it's, I think that's something that is truly striking, is that, you know, you're given this objective, and no one knows how to get there, and as a team you figure it out together. It, it I can see how it builds really strong bonds. Luke Seal: You know, what I like from that is also that high school students are a lot smarter than people give them credit for. Nico: Yup. Luke Seal: But like, if you give people, if you give people like, the space and opportunity to like, achieve a lot then they really can. Even if they're in high school they don't know anything, like that and, you know, there's really, I can't think of other programs that work that way.
That, you know, put a lot of responsibility on high school students and expect them to do really big things, because, you know, we did, and we could, and it was great. Nico: Yeah, and, and just last, last night when we were here till 9, 9:30 whatever it was. And we came in, and Amir says, you forgot how many hours there were in a day, didn't you? And it's so true, you really do, until we start kind of getting in this mode, and you're so, just, involved in it, that, it, time just flies, you, you know, you go to, you go to work, and you're kind of just going, okay, eight hours fills this long.
And all of a sudden, you're, it's, you come here afterwards, and two in the morning hits, and you're going, man, that, that's like, three hours, right? It's, it flies, and you just, it, it's, the feeling of, of going through it is irreplaceable, so I keep coming back to keep doing it over and over again. Speaker 1: Well, thank you so much for sharing these experiences with us. It's, you're all an inspiration and the program's an inspiration. Thank you very much. Nicole Showser: Thank you. Luke Seal: Thank you.
When you're done watching the documentary, make sure to check out the bonus conversations in the Interviews chapter.