DOREEN GEHRY NELSON
Doreen Gehry Nelson is Founding Director of Design-Based Learning and Professor Emerita of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, School of Education and Integrative Studies; Adjunct Professor in the Cal Poly College of Environmental Design; was Professor at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, from 2002-present.
An award-winning, 50-year veteran educator and published author in the field of education, Nelson began developing her Design-Based Learning methodology (formerly called City Building Education) in the late 1960s to ignite creativity, promote high-level transfer of learning, and foster cross-curricular critical thinking skills among K-12 students using the spatial domain. She was named one of 30 top American innovators in education by the New York Times in 1991, and is the recipient of both the American Institute of Architecture’s prestigious Lifetime Honorary Membership (the highest honor for a non-architect) and the California State University’s state-wide, 2006 Wang Award for Excellence in Education.
Nelson has served as lecturer, teacher, consultant, and scholar-in-residence for institutions as diverse as MIT, Harvard, Apple Computer, Stanford University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, London’s Royal College of Art, Japan’s Sendai Science Museum, the American Bar Association, Walt Disney Imagineering, and the Smithsonian Institution. Nelson contributed to the original Maxis SimCity simulation and wrote several teacher guides for the product. From 1994 through 2004, she led a Japan-USA Cultural and Educational Exchange program to develop Design-Based Learning as part of the Japanese national curriculum. The program included international video conferences and a satellite school in Finland.
Nelson has taught and applied her methodology to thousands of educators worldwide, as well as architects and lawyers, researchers, computer scientists, marine biologists, medical doctors, theater artists, musicians, and dancers.
Encompassing four decades of evaluative data, Nelson’s research confirms that students in Design-Based Learning classrooms develop creative and critical thinking skills, and score higher than average on standardized tests in language, reading, math, and other subjects. English Language Learners and students with learning disabilities, too, show measurable improvement. Students in the program graduate and enter college in significant numbers.
At Cal Poly, Pomona, Nelson established a two-year Design-Based Learning Master’s Degree program for K-12 teachers in 1995, and a one-year Certificate program in 2010. Graduates of the MA program are eligible for a Doreen Gehry Nelson Design-Based Learning Scholarship in Cal Poly’s doctorate program in Educational Leadership
ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California, in partnership with Cal Poly has hosted the annual, five-day Design-Based Learning Summer Institute for K-12 Teachers since 2001, providing scholarships for participants. The Institute serves as the first course for the Cal Poly Certificate or MA program.
In Southern California, Nelson’s Design-Based Learning methodology has resulted in the establishment of a dedicated building housing the Design-Based Learning program at Chaparral Middle School, and the Academic Design Program for 10th through 12th graders at Walnut High School in the Walnut Valley Unified School District that integrates math, social science, and language arts.
The UCLA Library Special Collections now houses Nelson’s archive with an oral history and featured her life and work in an exhibition in 2017.
In 2019, Center X at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies established the UCLA Design-Based Learning Project led by a full-time director who holds a Master’s Degree in Nelson’s methodology.