A Goleta school gets $16 million to hook young engineers

A Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy student helps guide visiting elementary students with a drill press. Photo by Carolina Starin

The Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy in Goleta recently received preliminary approval from the Santa Barbara Unified School District for a new $16 million addition. The public school academy plans to use it to further its academic vision focused on project-based learning, but also hopes the space will draw students for after-school and weekend fun.

“What if I can change the paradigm and say the school is a community center where people want to go?” said Amir Abo-Shaeer, the director of the academy. “Think, if students start coming to the campus on the weekend and in the summer because we’ve got these inviting experiences. It’s going to change their whole perspective about what school can look like and hopefully ultimately affect the culture of the school and the community.”

He hopes the classrooms will showcase his students’ educational and interactive work in a way that will draw students, parents and the wider community.

“Technology is going to have big impacts on our society,” said Abo-Shaeer. “I’d like to have everybody at the table for that process.”

The Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy students have already engineered several interactive exhibition pieces that have been featured at science and technology museums like the MOXI in Santa Barbara and the Exploratorium in San Francisco

A girl plays with the Spring-Mass Wave exhibit
at the MOXI in Santa Barbara. It's designed, manufactured, and produced by students at the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy. Photo Credit: Carolina Starin

In 2010, Abo-Shaeer, who is also a DPHS alum, was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship - more commonly known as a “genius grant” - for his work teaching high school robotics. 

He’s also succeeded in drawing girls into his program. More than half of the academy’s students are female, which is in stark contrast to the national average of women working as engineers -- 13 percent. 

A student at the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy sketches parts using CAD (computer-aided design) software as visiting elementary school students participate. Photo credit: Carolina Starin

Abo-Shaeer says he noticed more girls began signing up for his academy classes several years ago when STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education became STEAM (A for art) education. The idea of “art” in the curriculum began to pull girls into his program, but it also had another effect.

“The art isn’t just impacting women, it’s impacting anyone who sees the projects,” said Abo-Shaeer. “Our strategy is to show people stuff that just looks fundamentally cool, and then everybody wants to be a part of it.”



Carolina Starin