Our Team

Director, Design-Based Learning at Center X Project

JESSICA HEIM

Jessica Heim is Director of the Design-Based Learning Project. She earned her M.A. degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis on Design-Based Learning from California Polytechnic University, Pomona in 2016. A former teacher in Los Angeles Unified School District for more than 15 years, Jessica has worked with diverse groups of students in grades K-6. She has previously been an instructor at the Summer Institute for Teachers (SIFT) at Art Center College of Design and has worked with K-12 teachers as an instructional coach through the Center for City Building Education since 2015. Originally from San Diego, Jessica completed her B.A. in Journalism from Point Loma Nazarene University in 2004 and her Multiple Subject Teaching Credential from the same university in 2005.

Founding Director of Design-Based Learning

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.

JEN SORBARA

Jen is a math teacher and program coordinator at Walnut High School in Walnut Valley Unified School District and a facilitator for the Design-Based Learning Project at UCLA Center X.

She led the development of the Academic Design Program (ADP), implementing Design-Based Learning in a year 10 through 12 setting, integrating math, social science, and language arts.

Jen was part of a team that expanded a one-classroom Design-Based Learning program at Chaparral Middle school into a 3-year program now occupying a state of the art wing at the school. She earned an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Design-Based Learning from California Polytechnic University, Pomona in 2007 and has experience in grades 6 through 12 in math, science, social science, technology, and credit recovery. She has previously been a lecturer through the Cal Poly College of Education and Integrative Studies and Art Center College of Design.

DAPHNE CHASE

Daphne Chase has been teaching for over 15 years and is currently a second grade teacher in the San Gabriel Unified School District as well as a facilitator for the Design-Based Learning Project at UCLA Center X.

Daphne began her Design-Based Learning journey at the Summer Institute for Teachers (SIFT) at Art Center College of Design. She then earned a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Design-Based Learning from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona in 2017.

In addition to being a classroom teacher, Daphne has previously been a coach at the SIFT and for a cohort of teachers in her district. She has taught a Design-Based Learning Introduction class as a guest lecturer at Cal Poly Pomona, for an Induction Consortium, and within San Gabriel Unified School District. She is proud to have introduced the DBL methodology to her district and is amazed and inspired by the San Gabriel teachers who have taken DBL to new heights in their classrooms.

RANA MASRI

Rana Masri is a High School Science teacher at Del Mar High School and a facilitator for the Design-Based Learning Project at UCLA Center X.

While at Del Mar, She has been responsible for teaching all the science and math curriculum. Rana was first introduced to Design-Based Learning by attending the Summer Institute for Teachers at Art Center in Pasadena. She has completed 3 years of DBL training with San Gabriel Unified School District and has continued working with her colleagues to integrate DBL into all subject areas.

Rana graduated from Claremont Mckenna College in 2003 with a BA in Neuroscience with Honors. She then earned her MA in Neuroscience from USC in 2006. She then attended California State University, Los Angeles and earned her teaching credential in 2008.

NATALIE BEZDJIAN

Natalie Bezdjian has been teaching for over 20 years and is currently a kindergarten teacher at Rose and Alex Pilibos Armenian School and a facilitator for the Design-Based Learning Project at UCLA Center X.

Natalie began her Design-Based Learning (DBL) journey in the summer of 2012 at the Summer Institute for Teachers (SIFT) at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, California. She then completed her Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Design-Based Learning offered at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona in 2015.

ARACELI GARCÍA

Araceli Garcia has been teaching for 22 years and is the English department chair at her alma mater -Workman High School in La Puente.

She received her B A. in English literature from UCSD and her Masters in Education from Cal Poly Pomona. She has taught all levels of English from ELD to AP Language and AP Literature using the Doreen Nelson Design based learning methodology. Because of her work with English language learners, Ms. Garcia was invited to present at the annual Advaced Placement Forum. She is an instructional coach and a facilitator for the Summer Institute for teachers at Art Center.

STEPHANIE NA

Stephanie Na is a high school English and Special Education teacher. She is currently working at Workman High School in the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District and will be entering her 6th year of teaching.

She recently completed her M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Design-Based Learning (DBL) from California Polytechnic University, Pomona. Stephanie began implementing the Doreen Nelson Method of Design-Based Learning in her second year of teaching after attending the Summer Institute for Teachers (SIFT) at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Stephanie has applied the methodology in a range of courses from Special Education English classes (grades 9-12), general education English classes (grades 9-10), Advanced Composition, study skills, and in AVID 1 and 2. Stephanie has also been a DBL coach at SIFT in Pasadena and in Pomona. In addition to her background in Design-Based Learning, she holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Los Angeles and a M.A.T in Secondary English from the University of Southern California. She is also a Link Crew advisor and is on the AVID site team at her school.

GEORGIA SINGLETON

Georgia Singleton is a fourth-grade teacher and elementary speech and debate coach in the San Gabriel Unified School District and a facilitator for the Design-Based Learning Project at UCLA Center X.

She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Azusa Pacific University. Georgia also received the Bravo Award from the Music Center of Los Angeles County which honors teachers for exemplary education in the arts. She has directed multiple elementary performances, incorporated UCLA Writing Project, Project Based Learning and Design-Based Learning into her classroom.

She began her journey with Design Based Learning during the Summer Institute for Teachers (SIFT) at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and continued her education with her district cohort through UCLA Center X.

KATE BORIHANE

Kate Borihane is a high school English teacher at Walnut High School in the Walnut Valley Unified School District and a facilitator for the Design-Based Learning Project at UCLA Center X. She has been teaching since 2007 and currently teaches both college preparatory and honors level classes of sophomores and juniors.

Kate earned a B.A. in English in 2006 and a secondary teaching credential in English in 2007. She went on to complete her M.A. in Education in 2012. Both of her degrees and her teaching credential are from California State University, Fullerton.

Kate began using the Design Based Learning methodology after attending the DBL Summer Institute and made the decision to join a team of teachers at Walnut High School under the leadership of Jennifer Sorbara. Together they launched a three year program called the Academic Design Program, which was a program that employed DBL with a cohort of sophomores who would continue to utilize the method through their graduation from high school. The program has been an immense success for the last 9 years and it continues to engage students with critical thinking and creativity through Design-Based Learning.

DAVID CAMERON

David Cameron is a High School Teacher with 16 years of experience across multiple disciplines at Gabrielino High School in San Gabriel. He uses Design Based Learning to amplify the Next Generation Science Standards, (NGSS), in his Science classes. David is also a facilitator for the Design-Based Learning Project at UCLA Center X.

David earned his B.A. Business/Economics from the University of California Santa Barbara in 2000. He went on to complete his M.A. in Teaching and Learning from Point Loma University in 2012. He first learned about Design-Based Learning by attending the Summer Institute for Teachers at Art Center in Pasadena followed by the San Gabriel District cohort dedicated to Design Based Learning. Currently he implements the methodology in all of his High School classes: Chemistry, World History, and Computer Science: Python.

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Not only does DBL allow my kids to think creatively on a consistent basis, it allows them to take a subject like math that seems abstract and foreign to them, and turn it into something they’re actually building.”

Rana Masri

Del Mar High School, SGUSD

The students are analyzing, thinking about what works best, and taking their learning seriously. I have never found anything that works better to engage learning than this methodology.”

Georgia Singleton

4th Grade Teacher, Roosevelt Elementary, SGUSD

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