Mechanical Engineering Alum wins MacArthur Fellows "Genius Grant"
The list of 2010 MacArthur Fellows was released at 12:01 a.m. EST, Tuesday, September 28, and high school science educator and Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy Director Amir Abo-Shaeer is among the 23 recipients. Abo-Shaeer earned both his Bachelor's and Master's in Mechanical Engineering at UCSB.
Fellows receive a "no strings attached" stipend of $500,000, paid out in equal quarterly installments, to use at their discretion to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations. Criteria for selection of Fellows include exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment, and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work.
According to the Foundation's web site:
"The MacArthur Fellows Program is intended to encourage people of outstanding talent to pursue their own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations. In keeping with this purpose, the Foundation awards fellowships directly to individuals rather than through institutions. Recipients may be writers, scientists, artists, social scientists, humanists, teachers, entrepreneurs, or those in other fields, with or without institutional affiliations. They may use their fellowship to advance their expertise, engage in bold new work, or, if they wish, to change fields or alter the direction of their careers.
"Although nominees are reviewed for their achievements, the fellowship is not a reward for past accomplishment, but rather an investment in a person's originality, insight, and potential. Indeed, the purpose of the MacArthur Fellows Program is to enable recipients to exercise their own creative instincts for the benefit of human society."
Abo-Shaeer began his career as a mechanical engineer working on research and development in academia, aerospace, and telecommunications before deciding to move into the field of education in 2001.
He teaches physics and engineering at Dos Pueblos High School, and he develops courses focused on project-based learning including a robotics class that participates as Team 1717 in the international FIRST Robotics Competition every year. He is also dedicated to outreach efforts, which have yielded 50 percent female student enrollment in his program.
In 2007, he garnered a $3 million California matching grant to create a new facility on the high school campus. He worked with several volunteers to establish the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy Foundation, which manages the $3 million capital campaign to match the grant and works to secure funds to sustain the current educational goals of the program.
Construction began on the 12,000 square-foot Elings Center for Engineering Education in July 2010. Its July 2011 completion will enable the academy to triple its enrollment and significantly broaden the educational opportunities available to students.
Abo-Shaeer was stunned to receive the phone call almost two weeks ago informing him of the fellowship, particularly because there is no way to apply for it and he had no idea he was being considered. When he learned that the fellowship is bestowed as an investment in a person's originality, insight, and potential, he was overwhelmed. "It all seemed so surreal, especially because I couldn't talk about it to anyone for such a long period of time. I still can't believe it. I feel so fortunate and very humbled."
New York Times bestselling author Neal Bascomb wrote a book chronicling Abo-Shaeer's visionary teaching, his quest to transform education, and his 2009 FIRST robotics team's competition season. The New Cool will be released March 1, 2011.
Biographies, photographs, and videos on the new class of John D. and Catherine T. MacArther Foundation Fellows are posted online at: www.macfound.org
The Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy is a joint program of the Santa Barbara Secondary School District and the Santa Barbara County Education Office's Regional Occupational Program.
Dos Pueblos High School is located at 7266 Alameda, Goleta, CA
Photo (left to right): Emily Shaeer, daughter Aliya Shaeer, and Amir Abo-Shaeer (photo of Amir, wife, and daughter) at the Elings Center construction site at Dos Pueblos High School, upcoming home of the expanded Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy.