The academy’s Team 1717 has made it to the FIRST Robotics World Championships for seven straight years and came in sixth in St. Louis last weekend. This year’s competition focused on disc-throwing robots instead of the basketball-throwing robot that still hangs out in the Elings Center for Engineering Education workshop.
Capps visited the workshop and classrooms for lower-level classes where students learn the basics of programming and other engineering skills.
Students apply as eighth-graders, and the program culminates in the competition project senior year of high school.
DPEA Director Amir Abo-Shaeer has been developing a new curriculum and is excited to have students getting multiple years of hands-on experience before they become seniors.
“It was way too much to learn for one year,” he said.
He told Capps that the DPEA is important not just because of the practical engineering skills that students learn, but the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that can transfer to other fields.
It was easier to get students’ attention before the Internet, he said, and now educators have to show them school is worth it.
“We try to provide experiences they can’t get elsewhere,” Abo-Shaeer said.
Capps complimented the team’s skills, which expand beyond engineering into apparel design, public relations and fundraising. The academy and the DPEA Foundation get sponsors for most of the expenses.
Abo-Shaeer said the amount of ownership the students have for their projects is what sets the robots apart for judges — not that the programming is top tier.
“The programming on that robot is so good, I don’t even know what they’re doing,” he said.
Presenting skills and communicating knowledge to judges is a big part of the team’s success, according to Abo-Shaeer.
The six students who demonstrated the robot to Capps — all seniors — are all attending California universities next year.
“I probably wouldn’t have found engineering without this academy,” Caroline Whelan said.
In the computer labs and classrooms of the Elings Center, students were creating kinetic sculptures and other projects that Abo-Shaeer and faculty members created from scratch.
“We’re not buying canned projects off a shelf — they’re totally unique,” he said, adding that they’re big believers in combining disciplines, too, and many of the projects are sculptures that require students to use art, design, CAD, computer science, programming and product development skills all at once.
Older students were helping younger ones, as well, something that made Capps note the lasting impact of the DPEA on its participants.
“They’re really part of a movement,” she said, adding that the field for science, technology, engineering and math careers is growing, and the DPEA is giving students the opportunity to explore those areas.
Reflecting back, she remembers when Dos Pueblos High School almost closed in 1989, because of a shrinking population. Abo-Shaeer was a junior there at the time and picketed to protest the closure, he said.
“They told me I would get suspended if I picketed, but I did it anyway — and I didn’t get suspended,” he said.
Click here for more information about the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy.