Engineering and Design

What are the steps and considerations needed for good design? How can a thoughtful and intentional design process shape and improve the experience for people who use a product or a place?


These questions are the starting points for an approach that frames design as a series of strategic considerations and engineering as a process of learning what we need to know to create a desired outcome.  

The Bay School’s design thinking education begins in 9th grade, when all students take the Creative Process class, and concludes with their Senior Signature Projects, when they spend an entire year pursuing a project of their own design. The skills acquired in this arc prepare our students exceptionally well to solve thorny challenges. Whether the end product is an assistive device like a crutch or a government policy, Bay students learn that a systematic approach allows them to find a way forward.

The confidence they gain in their abilities is so cool. Their sense of independence and accomplishment speaks for itself. I love seeing that change come over them.

Brad Niven, design and engineering teacher, Project Center Director

Design Thinking at the Core

“Projects vary, but the goal is always to start with something totally foreign. Show them how to break it all out and see the underlying logic. That beginning phase, the messy part, is the hardest part,” says Brad Niven, design and engineering teacher and Director of the Project Center. Students might begin the course with creating a structure out of old manila folders and tape that is strong enough to hold a cinderblock. It will probably fail. It might even be a mess. “But the point is,” Niven says, “students come out the other side seeing that it’s possible. With each iteration, you learn and get closer to the goal.”

Skills build up from learning to render ideas by drawing all the way to building complex systems in Advanced Mechanism Design and Senior Signature Projects. Challenges might include creating a working solution for doing laundry for someone confined to a wheelchair or a way for someone on crutches to navigate the lunch line. Students become adept at low- and high-fidelity prototyping, presenting their ideas, and planning out processes. 

The value of this hands-on work becomes clear as students gain confidence not only in their use of tools and machinery but also in their abilities to map out solutions to problems. Learn more about Bay alumni who have gone on to study engineering in college and have careers in STEM fields

The Project Center

The Bengier Project Center is a 3,600-square-foot facility housing an engineering and robotics lab and art studio; it also serves as the Senior Signature Projects headquarters. 

You’ll see a lot of equipment here, but we often get asked why we don’t have a 3D printer or CAD stations. The answer is that tools change, good process does not. Although Bay does have a 3D printer, classes in this space focus on the physical connection to the materials, which 3D printing does not offer.

Handling materials is essential to understanding their uses, and we place emphasis on “going the long way around.” The only way to truly understand the process of creating a product that works is by creating a product that works. That process includes learning how to evaluate ideas for viability, understanding which materials are appropriate for the need, prototyping, and many other skills that cannot be circumvented. The abilities students gain in these courses can be applied throughout their lives.