This year, the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy has more than 50 mentors who volunteer anywhere from four to 20 hours a week. These mentors impart their business management skills or engineering expertise to a group of 32 receptive seniors who comprise the 2013 Team 1717 FIRST Robotics team. The volunteers come from countless local businesses and from retirement to share their skills and experience.

The opening of the $6 million Elings Center for Engineering Education at the beginning of the year enabled the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy to introduce more students to the hands-on aspects of engineering, and called upon the community to help students relate this experience to reality. As has been the case since the academy was founded, the community responded in a big way. Among them are veteran mechanical and electrical engineers, physicists, UC Santa Barbara professors, retired machinists and Engineering Academy alumni. In addition to the engineering mentors, the 20 business teams (web content, I.T., travel, media relations, presentations, historian, graphics, grant writing, apparel, art and awards to name a few) each have one or more mentor. Many are parents of students currently or previously enrolled in the Academy. However, several have no obvious ties other than a desire to be part of an exceptional educational phenomenon.

Nico Ruvalcaba, Chase Buchanan, Scott Cook and Anthony Turk were all previously a part of Team 1717 and after some college experience have returned to the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy to help out with the program. Ruvalcaba, a machinist mentor, currently works at LCOGT, and was previously in the academy, graduating from the program in 2008. He has returned to the Academy and continues to allocate his time to high school students.

“I got a lot out of this program, and it did a lot for me,” said Ruvalcaba. “It helped me to prepare for industry and school. I want to help more students to get to the place I was.”

Turk, a 2009 academy graduate, is a SolidWorks mentor. He is currently completing his senior year at UCSB in Mechanical Engineering and felt driven to help the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy.

“I’m excited to be helping out this year,” said Turk, because he believes it will “be a great opportunity to give back to the program that helped shape my future.” He is eager to share the information that he has gained from college and working as an intern at Raytheon.

“It’s kind of nice coming back as a mentor after a few years of college experience and applying everything that I’ve learned so far,” said Turk. “I think I learn more now as a mentor than back when I was a student just because I’ve developed a better understanding of concepts, and it’s a cooler experience to see the other end of the lens in comparison to actually going through it as a kid and then coming back as a mentor.”

The seniors who make up the robotics team are divided into respective technical teams; each senior has different specializations. The programming team works diligently in improving their computer-coding skills while the electrical and pneumatics team has advanced training in electrical engineering. The bulk of the students on the robotics team either machine parts in the machine shop or design parts on a software called SolidWorks. Companies and individual adults from around Santa Barbara County have taken it upon themselves to relate classroom lessons to future careers.

Senior Serina Zepeda is on the transmissions team and is currently learning advanced SolidWorks Computer-Aided Design (CAD), primarily from mentor Justin Schwab, representing Allergan. She is enthusiastic and eager to learn with Schwab and other mentors who volunteer on Monday nights. During the fall, the seniors and mentors occupy the Academy every Monday night until 9 or 10 p.m. in preparation for the coming FIRST Robotics season that kicks off the first week of January.

“The mentors are willing to help the students and are really easy going,” said Zepeda. “It’s much less stressful than being in the classroom because this learning is not based on grades and tests but rather based on each individual’s hard work and perseverance to complete a project to the best of his ability. These mentors really encourage me to do so.”

“Without the mentors we would not have the experience and help needed to do what we wish to accomplish,” said senior Alanna Kjoller. “We are so thankful for the help of all the talented people who are drawn to the Academy.”

Anyone interested in becoming an Engineering Mentor is invited to contact engineering mentor coordinator Arn Adams at Anyone interested in becoming a business mentor is invited to contact business mentor coordinator Gary Simpson at

» Click here for more information on the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy.

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— The Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy Media Relations Team includes Malika Agrawal, Erendiz Tarakci, Shauny Grant, Alanna Kjoller, Caroline Whelan.