UCSB alumnus Amir Abo-Shaeer was recently awarded $500,000 from the MacArthur Foundation for his work with the Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy.

This is the first time in the foundation’s history that the fellowship, also known as the “Genius Award,” has been given to a high school teacher. Abo-Shaeer was recognized for establishing the DPEA, which offers students a demanding curriculum requiring the application of physics, engineering and mathematics skills.

Abo-Shaeer said he hopes the award will improve the reputation of public education.

“I feel that public education has a lot of commentary with what’s wrong [with it],” Abo-Shaeer said. “I feel I have the huge responsibility to say what’s right with public education. I really think there are opportunities to make public school exceptional.”

Upon the program’s conclusion, the students in Abo-Shaeer’s senior class build a robot to submit for competitions. Aside from local wins, DPEA’s robots have also earned national and international acclaim.

Additionally, Abo-Shaeer said applied learning fuels enthusiasm for education.

“The school had just received a grant to start curriculum for a new engineering program,” Abo-Shaeer said. “I wanted to give students a hands-on experience.”

According to Dos Pueblos High School Principal Shawn Carey, many of the students in the program were also given the opportunity to intern with UCSB. Carey said the collaboration is essential to the program.

“We rely heavily on community involvement,” Carey said. “We want to expand the academy to involve more of a variety of students.”

The academy has also received considerable attention for its equal ratio of female to male students. On average, most advanced high school science courses comprise of more men than women.

Aside from endeavoring to expand the academy’s curriculum to include students of varying academic capabilities, Abo-Shaeer is also working to create a training program for teachers interested in following in his footsteps.

Additionally, Jenni Aye, a second-year mechanical engineering major, said the grant will positively impact UCSB as well.

“The grant will definitely bring more prestige to UCSB,” Aye said. “Especially since many people do not realize that UCSB has a great engineering program.”