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Dublin High School’s Engineering and Design Academy Continues to Expand and Inspire Young Engineers

January 17, 2017

DUBLIN, CA–The Dublin High School Engineering and Design Academy (DEDA), which began in the 2010 – 2011 school year to provide high school students with basic engineering knowledge and career exploration opportunities, has seen tremendous growth in recent years. In a span of just six years, it has expanded to include six Project Lead the Way (PLTW) courses:

  • Principles of Engineering (POE)
  • Introduction to Engineering Design (IED)
  • Computer Science and Software Engineering (CSE)
  • Digital Electronics (DE)
  • Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM)
  • Computer Science Applications (CSA).

The program, which started with just 42 students, now serves approximately 420 students, with a total of around 14 hours of instruction time per day.

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Planned new Dublin High School Engineering and Science Building

Any student who has taken an engineering elective is given the opportunity to join the Academy during the second semester of their freshman or sophomore year, under a specific pathway. There are two pathways currently offered at Dublin High: Engineering and Computer Science. A student’s chosen pathway determines the specialization courses they will take. All students must still complete two foundational courses and one specialization course to receive an Engineering Certificate upon graduation.

As a beneficiary of this program myself, I recently had the chance to meet with the Engineering Academy coordinators, Ms. Eugene Chou and Mr. Adam Brown, to discuss the various courses under these two pathways and their prerequisites, opportunities offered apart from classroom instruction, and some of the challenges that come with the program’s continued growth.

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Dublin High School Engineering Teachers Adam Brown and Eugene Chou

Neha Harpanhalli: Describe the various courses offered at Dublin High School, under the Engineering and Computer Science Pathways.

Adam Brown: “For the Engineering Pathway, the first foundational course offered to freshmen is Introduction to Engineering Design (IED). In this course, students use 3D modeling design software (Autodesk Inventor) and learn the engineering design process, while coming up with creative solutions to proposed challenges. They should be concurrently enrolled in at least Algebra 1 to take this class.”

Eugene Chou: “Also, IED students should be able to pass the Autodesk Inventor Certified User exam by the end of the course.

“Principles of Engineering (POE) is typically the second level course for both pathways. It surveys a number of different engineering disciplines: mechanisms, electricity, energy, statics, robotics, and a little bit of programming. In terms of preparation, students should be concurrently enrolled in Geometry or higher, but we have seen that students are most successful when they have already completed both Algebra 1 and Geometry.”

Brown: “Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM) is the junior level class, where students learn how to integrate manufacturing processes using a computer: 3D printing, laser cutting, CNC mills, automation in factories, and factory design. The requirement would be at least successful completion of IED.”

Chou: “Finally, Digital Electronics (DE) is a high-level course for juniors and seniors that deals with smart circuits and electricity. [It is not an AP course.] Students build small electronic devices and learn Boolean algebra. Basic requirements would be completion of POE or CSE, and at least an Algebra II math level.”

Brown: “In the Computer Science Pathway, we offer Computer Science and Software Engineering (CSE), an intro-based class that surveys a wide range of computer science topics: network programming, programming languages (HTML/CSS and Python), hacking, and web/app development. Students from all grade levels are welcome; as long as you have an interest in the field and have completed Algebra 1, you will succeed.

“The second class in this pathway is Computer Science Applications (CSA), which is an AP class. The entire year is spent in Java programming, and also working with Android Studio to create Android apps. This is a rigorous and more difficult class which requires successful completion of CSE or instructor approval.”

Harpanhalli: What is the application process for students to join the Academy?

Chou: “Towards the end of the year, freshman or sophomore students can apply by going online to our website (http://www.dublin.k12.ca.us/domain/627). They must fill out a paper portion with 2 teacher recommendations, as well as an online portion which asks basic information and interests. After the application is complete, they must schedule an interview with one of the Academy teachers.”

Harpanhalli: What other opportunities are made available for engineering students, to supplement instruction time?

Chou: “We offer field trips to various industry facilities nearby, for which students within the Academy are given first priority. We also bring in guest speakers about once per month in the foundational courses, who share their industry experience with students, and hope to get them inspired in the field. In addition, there is the Gael Force Robotics, Gael Force Build, and the Girls Who Code club: so there are plenty of activities for students outside of regular class time.”

Brown: “Also, the Entrepreneurship Project that we do in the final two weeks of the curriculum gives students an opportunity to work with a team of up to 4 students across any of the engineering classes to design and create a product that they then present to their classmates. The top presenters get an opportunity to present in front of a panel of industry judges.”

Harpanhalli: I understand that there is a DEDA Mentor Program where junior engineering students are matched with an industry professional, to work on career development and improving their networking skills. Could you elaborate on this?

Chou: “Juniors start the year by getting to know their mentor, and working on goal-setting with them. They then move onto college and career exploration, and work on professional skills, like writing resumes and conducting mock interviews. They finish the year with a reflection about how the program worked for them. The goal of the Mentor Program is to get students very comfortable with the idea of transitioning from not only high school to college, but college to a career.”

Harpanhalli: What are some of the challenges you face, given the tremendous growth of the Academy in recent years?

Chou: “Definitely space, and materials. We’ve had to encroach on other departments.

Brown: “Yeah, currently we’re maxed out on space. We only have two engineering classrooms, with classes in both rooms every single period of the day. So next year, if the growth continues, we’ll have to find more space to accommodate new students.”

Chou: “So with this growth — the increased number of freshmen coming in — we’ve increased the number of sections that we offer, but we still were forced to turn away about 60 students this year.

“I would say that part of it is also making sure that we hire and retain good teachers — and are not stealing them constantly from other departments, but actually hiring teachers with background in engineering and/or computer science.”

Harpanhalli: Women and girls are often underrepresented in science and engineering disciplines. What steps are you taking to inspire female engineers?

Brown: “Well, this year, Mr. Kaehms [who teaches CSA] is working with a group of girls and an industry person in creating the Girls Who Code club. They’re trying to get it to be a successful club here, and in the future (maybe next year) start branching out to the middle school level, to get more girls interested in coding.

“At the high school level, Ms. Chou does a great job of trying to recruit more girls into the Academy: she reaches out to math and science teachers, as well as girls already in the Academy [to encourage other girls to join]. So we try to do a lot, but there is so much more we can do to get girls interested in STEM.”

Harpanhalli: What role do you think parents and the community play in encouraging any student to give STEM a try?

Brown: “The community definitely plays a big role. Some parents in industry want their son or daughter to experience it, and I see a lot of those students in IED and CSE. Some of them may not be interested going in, but they eventually begin enjoying it as the course progresses.

“There are some parents whose son or daughter has an interest in engineering, and want to be able to help them, but they are not in this industry; so I think we need to try to do more with helping these students, because some of our classes can be quite challenging, and there isn’t a lot of help available besides some of the teachers, mentors, and upperclassmen.”

Harpanhalli: What most excites you about the future of this program?

Chou: “Probably the increased growth. And the actual building that will be put up pretty soon, because that will mean we will not only be able to offer more sections and reach more students, but also have space for more interesting equipment. We’ve talked about having a full machine shop and potentially getting a lathe, or making a section for welding….so that students can not only prototype their ideas with our basic VEX parts, but also be able to come up with a way to manufacture them using the various tools we’d have. That, I think is the most exciting part: being able to serve everyone who’s interested, and all the cool projects we’ll see.”

Brown: “The Engineering Department will also be all in one location, which will be helpful. So having a central location where everyone can easily access all the supplies, materials, and technology they need….I think that, and having everything else that’s going to be over there is what I’m definitely looking forward to the most.”

Ms. Eugene Chou is the coordinator for the Engineering Pathway, and currently teaches Principles of Engineering and Digital Electronics at Dublin High School. She earned her undergraduate degree in Mathematical Sciences from UC Santa Barbara, and her Masters in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from UC Berkeley.

Mr. Adam Brown is the coordinator for the Computer Science Pathway, and currently teaches Computer Science and Software Engineering and Introduction to Engineering Design at Dublin High School. He earned his B.S. in Mathematics from UC Riverside and an M.A. in Education from UC Berkeley. This is his second year at DHS.

Also part of the DEDA team: Physics and POE teacher Ms. Katina Lewis, who has been a teacher for over 25 years; Computer Integrated Manufacturing and IED teacher Mr. Dave Uken, who has been a teacher for 6 years, and Computer Science Applications teacher Mr. Robert Kaehms, who has over 30 years of experience in the computer industry and is in his 2nd year of teaching.

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