Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Dos Pueblos gets grant for new engineering facility


A highly technical and rigorous engineering and science program at Dos Pueblos High School will receive up to $3 million from the California Department of Education to build a new engineering facility on the Dos Pueblos campus.
Matching funds will need to be raised locally to cover the cost of an 11,000 square-foot facility that will expand the current four-year course of study offered by the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy (DPEA) that includes physics, computer science, engineering design and robotics.

“We are excited by the prospect of expanding the academy by giving the program a state-of-the-art building into which they can grow to serve even more Dos Pueblos students,” principal Mark Swanitz said in a prepared statement. “Having been selected for funding under this grant makes that prospect a very real possibility.”
Currently, a single science classroom serves as the academy’s home, allowing only 128 students to participate. DPEA Director Amir Abo-Shaeer said the proposed expansion will allow the program to grow immensely.
“Our goal really is to triple the program to serve 400 students,” Abo-Shaeer said. “We are turning away 50 percent of our qualified applicants now.”
Included in the plans for the new building is a 4,000 square-foot machine shop, a wood shop and various laboratories for mechanical and computer engineering.
“The big thing that is really going to change everything is the machine shop,” Abo-Shaeer said.
DPEA seniors often have to go to local engineering sponsors to build robotic components for their culminating project, the construction of a robot that competes nationally. With the machine shop, students will be able to fabricate, design and develop components on their own in a real-world setting.
“It’s kind of like the crown jewel,” Abo-Shaeer said. “It’s really going to make the difference.”
Abo-Shaeer, who has taught the majority of the courses at DPEA since its founding in 2002, spent a month during the summer putting together the grant application. Although the grant has been approved by the state, it still needs to be assigned an exact dollar amount based on estimated construction costs and other factors.
A design contract is in the works and the state is expected to determine the grant amount in the next few months. In order to get the ball rolling on raising funds locally, the DPEA Foundation has been formed and is launching a campaign to rally community support.
“My hope is that people will see the value in this program as we make it more public,” Abo-Shaeer said.
As the project moves forward, organizers said there are plans to recruit additional teachers in various engineering disciplines to complement Abo-Shaeer’s mechanical engineering and physics background, and Kevin McKee’s computer science courses. Abo-Shaeer also hopes to continue a recent gender trend among DPEA students.
“One of our main things is trying to encourage female students to participate in engineering and hard sciences,” he said.
With just two girls in the first group of DPEA students, the current freshman and sophomore classes boast a 50/50 gender split, much more balanced than national averages for women in science and engineering.
“The goal that I have is to change the culture,” Abo-Shaeer said. “Hopefully students will think of it as just another academic opportunity and won’t associate it with any particular gender.”
For more information on the engineering academy or the foundation’s fundraising effort, visit www.dpengineering.org, which also includes a link to the robotics team’s website.

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