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UCSB Alumnus Amir Abo-Shaeer Garners MacArthur Fellowship

UC Santa Barbara Graduate Wins “Genius Grant” for Creating High School Engineering Academy

UC Santa Barbara alumnus Amir Abo-Shaeer has won a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship for his work with the Dos Pueblos High School Engineering Academy in Goleta, Calif. Academy Director Abo-Shaeer is the first public high school teacher to receive a MacArthur “genius grant.”

"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," said Abo-Shaeer, who received the phone call almost two weeks ago informing him of the fellowship. He had no idea he was being considered.

Physics teacher Abo-Shaeer, 38, will receive a stipend of $500,000 to use at his discretion to pursue his own creative, intellectual, and professional inclinations. He has hopes to train other educators about his curriculum and student recruitment innovations.

"Right now I teach full time. I can relieve my schedule to be a teacher trainer. If I have an idea that's exciting or interesting, I can try it," he told NPR.

After starting his career as a mechanical engineer in the aerospace and telecommunications industries, Abo-Shaeer returned to UC Santa Barbara to complete a master’s degree in education in 2001. He then began teaching physics and engineering at his alma mater, Dos Pueblos High School.

In 2002, Abo-Shaeer created the Engineering Academy and has served as the academy’s director since it founding. The program integrates physics, engineering, and mathematics in its curriculum.

Abo-Shaeer develops courses focused on project-based learning, including a robotics class that participates as Team 1717 in the international FIRST Robotics Competition every year. According to the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy, his outreach efforts have yielded 50 percent female student enrollment in his program.

The Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy has several strong connections to UC Santa Barbara, including 31 students on campus who have graduated from the academy in the last four years. In addition, Team 1717’s mentors for 2011 include three UC Santa Barbara students, an alumnus, and a retired UC Santa Barbara staff member. Five members of UC Santa Barbara’s faculty and staff support the academy’s future growth as board of directors for the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy Foundation, which manages a capital campaign for the academy.

In 2007, Abo-Shaeer garnered a $3 million California matching grant to create a new facility for the academy on the high school campus. Former UC Santa Barbara Physics Professor Virgil Elings donated $1 million to the capital campaign, and, in recognition of the gift, the new building will be named the Elings Center for Engineering Education.

Academy Director Abo-Shaeer will have more recognition coming his way as “The New Cool,” New York Times bestselling author Neal Bascomb’s book chronicling Abo-Shaeer’s success in the education field and his 2009 FIRST robotics team’s competition season, will be released in March 2011.

Abo-Shaeer received bachelor’s degree in Physics in 1996, a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1998, and a master's degree in Education in 2001 from UC Santa Barbara.

Criteria for selection of MacArthur 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.

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