Bringing Girls to Engineering, a Teacher's Quest

By Katie Stansberry

With one phone call, Amir Abo-Shaeer’s life changed drastically. Amir has worked as a physics teacher at Dos Pueblos High School in Santa Barbara, California for the last nine years. Two weeks ago he got a phone call from a representative at the MacArthur Foundation informing the public educator that he was one of 23 recipients of the 2010 MacArthur fellowships. As a MacArthur fellow, Amir will receive $500,000 in quarterly installments over the next five years. That’s got to be quite a salary increase for the mechanical engineer turned public high school teacher. MacArthur fellowships are awarded to individuals who “have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” Amir is instilling a love of science and engineering in the students at Dos Pueblos High School by focusing on problem-based learning programs. The unique curriculum of the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy, which Amir created, integrates physics, engineering, and mathematics courses. The program cumulates in a submission in the FIRST Robotics Competition where the students show off their original creations. One of the most impressive aspects of Amir’s work is his tireless recruitment efforts that have resulted in a nearly 50/50 split between men and women in the engineering program. In an industry that is predominately male, Amir may well be prepping the next generation of women to take on the glass ceiling in science and engineering careers. There has been much conversation this week about the current state of public education in the United States. The recognition of Amir’s work by such a prestigious organization is a powerful reminder of the power and potential of our educators. The very fact that a high school teacher was awarded a MacArthur fellowship has been a national news story. Ironic in that the funding is described as “an investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential.” That sounds a lot like the reason many educators get up every morning. Every time a teacher steps into a classroom they are making an investment in their students. [This post also appeared on IsteConnects.]