Saturday, March 17 , 2018, 8:02 pm | Partly Cloudy 55º


The Great Wall of Thanks: Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy Unveils Donor Wall

If you build it, the saying goes, they will come. On Saturday, the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy showed off its newest handbuilt creation, the Capital Campaign Donor Wall, and people came indeed — the people whose generosity gave the award-winning educational experience the ability to build the Elings Center for Engineering Education on the Dos Pueblos High campus.

Sandy Seale, DPEA Foundation president, proudly noted that all the metal panels on the wall were handmade by students and staff in the DPEA’s own machine shop. DPEA founder and Director Amir Abo-Shaeer addressed the crowd of familiar faces.

“This entire project is entirely due to altruism, to many people contributing to make a greater whole," Abo-Shaeer said. “It is humbling to us to be the stewards of these altruistic gestures of the community to keep this whole program going.”

Virgil Elings, the major donor after whom the DPEA building is named, added, “This idea of project-based learning that is happening here is really a big deal. It’s a lot like life, and so it’s great to see it working so well here at DPEA. I look forward to seeing how they can keep the energy going.”

To that end, Seale noted with a smile that some empty spaces remain on the Donor Wall for future supporters. Already, though, numerous local companies, foundations and individuals are represented, demonstrating the wide support for the ideals of the DPEA.

One of the earliest contributors to the project was The Women’s Fund of Santa Barbara, which gave a major capital gift for the Elings Center.

“To see the success of this program, it’s phenomenal,” said Parm Williams of the Women’s Fund. “We’re probably as proud of this gift as we are of almost any other gift, to see how it’s grown. A day like this is awesome, it really gives me a lump in my throat.”

Williams was not the only person to remember the academy’s early days.

“This used to be a parking lot where I played drums in the Chargers band,” said Abo-Shaeer, a graduate of both Dos Pueblos High and UCSB who founded what became the DPEA in 2002.

Donors past and present all said their contributions were based on the potential results of this unique educational experience for students.

“The kids learn more than just how to use machines, such as the CNC, the mills, the lathes,” said Doug Troxel, founder of the Change Happens Foundation, an early DPEA supporter. “They also learn software, marketing, and the important skill of collaboration. They get a rounded education. The people who go through this are really considered a prize for companies out there.” The Change Happens Conference Room in the Elings Center is named in honor of the capital campaign donation from the Troxel family.

Charles Meyer donated with a friend in honor of their engineer fathers.

“At DPEA, students are working on projects and figuring out how to fix things, how to create a robot, how to get it done in a short period of time and work under time constraints," Meyer said. "So in other words, it’s like real life, for better or for worse. It’s not dry and boring like just opening a book.”

Local construction executive Frank Schipper, whose company built the Elings Center and recently donated work on the improvements of the new DPEA Media Lab, pointed to the lifelong advantages a DPEA education can bring.

“They get a chance to use their brains, a chance to use their hands, a chance to build something," he said. "Some of these kids won’t become engineers, they’ll become lawyers or doctors, but they’ll be better citizens because of the things they learn here. We think this way of learning is the wave of the future.”

DPEA alumni and their families were well represented among the capital campaign donors.

Ellen and Lars Bildstein have had three students at DPEA.

“The DPEA has been a wonderful part of our family, so we were more than happy to donate to something that has made such a big impact on our lives,” Ellen Bildstein said.

“I chose to donate mainly because of the impact DPEA had and is still having on my life,” said 2009 graduate Daniel Huthsing, now a mechanical engineer at Flir Systems. “A lot of the stuff I learned in the engineering academy, I either relearned in college or allowed me to have internships in college doing things that normally college graduates would not be doing. The DPEA was a great thing for me and it continues to be.”

A recent alum and UC Berkeley freshman, 2014 grad Anthony Blair expressed the kind of optimism created by a DPEA education. Looking at the wall that he helped build while a student last year, he said, “I'm just trying to figure out where on the wall my million-dollar donation will go someday!”

The visitors to the unveiling were given tours of the new Media Lab where students will work on the new mechatronics senior projects over the rest of the school year, along with the machine shop that will be home to the robotics program. Students also showed the projects created by other class years, as well as discussed their goals and college plans with visitors.

Click here for more information about the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy.

Note: DPEA students Siena Applebaum and Robert Granatelli assisted with reporting for this story.

— Jim Buckley is a communications mentor for the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy.

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