Taking the Time: Engineering a Bright Future

Bay student Justin ’20 shares his path from middle school and how engineering courses at Bay have helped him frame his learning and life.

Tell us about your transition into Bay from Del Mar Middle School.
I went to Del Mar in Marin. Though it was a slightly bigger public middle school, it was a smooth transition. I think Bay does a great job with the freshmen transition and helping students manage stress. Bay was very different because of the smaller class sizes and hands-on learning. In middle school, it was always memorizing this or that. At Bay, you have to work more to figure out what works or doesn’t work and know that you’re going to mess up and that’s okay because that’s part of how you figure out what your strengths are.

Now that you’re a junior, what Bay classes really stood out and why?
I feel the first class that really shocked me was Engineering and Design sophomore year. So far everything had been going well and I was understanding things pretty quickly, but that was the first class I did that was really hands-on. So we had to prototype different projects and test different things and it was all thinking on your feet and I was more used to long-term projects, annotating and outlining. Suddenly we had to just make it up as we went and that was a shock to me. I learned I’m not really great with my hands, but also to trust the process and create my own rhythm so I could keep up, whether through assigning myself homework or building things in advance.

In the past, I’ve thrived in humanities and history and struggled with math because math always seemed like shorter-term projects, much more about speed and accuracy, which may not be true but is how I’ve thought of it. Humanities provides longer-term projects you can really get immersed in, focusing on one thing and gathering as much as possible, then providing analysis. But in Engineering we had to combine both analysis and thinking on your feet to work quickly. So it was a very good skill and I learned what works for me and what doesn’t.

And after your first Engineering class, you dove into Bay’s first Engineering Immersive course this year. How was that?
I was one of only three juniors in the Immersive because Engineering and Design, the prerequisite, which I took sophomore year, is a course most people take in junior year. The Immersive was very different because it was all day for three weeks, which is very strenuous for the mind. It’s great because you really get to immerse yourself but you’re focusing on one thing for such a consistent period of time that you almost start to lose your way. Similar to how I think of writing a book. At the start you have all these thoughts and ideas and you’re really into it and as time goes on you’re thinking, “I need this to end already.” The best thing about a three-week, all day course was the time to reflect and go back and make adjustments, so my design team really saw improvement in our second project compared to our first. Our first turned out fine but the process was strenuous and stressful and a lot of things we did were unnecessary. By the second time we got our mojo down. We had a process. We analyzed and prepared and had confidence in the process of how we approached the project. 

How did the teams and collaboration work?
Brad, our teacher, did a really good job of creating really balanced teams. We definitely had complimentary skills and figured out by the second project who was good at what. On my team of four, we had two people who were really good at building and constructing—the hands-on work. I and the other teammate were really good at brainstorming and coming up with ideas and drawing…more the conceptual, design aspect. So we were able to combine our strengths to move past hurdles and finish in a reasonable amount of time. While my partner and I were busy drawing and trying to figure out what worked in design, our teammates were busy prototyping and testing the designs.

What were the highlights of the Immersive?
In the first week, we all learned that when we were cramming everything and didn’t have a process down, it was really frustrating. The whole class was doing this. So Brad sat us down and talked to us about how we were supposed to trust the process and think rather than just work consistently without allowing time for thinking and processing. That was an epiphany for me and it really improved my work. I’d go home, wait a little bit before starting the project, and brainstorm. And that improved the quality of my work. Also, at the end of the Immersive we had a showcase event and we showed what worked and what didn’t. It was great to see the other groups’ work to understand which projects would work best in the real world, which were the most practical. For example, just because ours worked didn’t mean anyone would want to really buy it and use it.

What’s the takeaway from your time in Engineering at Bay?
For me, I’m not great with my hands and I acknowledge that. However, I’m pretty good with thinking and analyzing stuff. So, even though I may not become a civil engineer, designing and building bridges, because it probably wouldn’t turn out too well, I figured out the skills that I got from engineering would definitely benefit me with anything else I want to try—business, computer science, or law. Anything else I want to do I know how to work efficiently and not become bogged down in all the work as maybe some would if they hadn’t gone through a similar experience. It helps me keep a free mind in a sense.