Ever since I first interviewed to become a student at Marin SEL I have heard about the engineering program. I heard stories of students building everything from massive structures to detailed spoons. With all the hype from students and staff I expected the class to be a welcome break in my schedule, one that allowed me to forget the monotony of everyday high school life. Little did I know that within the very first weeks of the class I would learn that engineering was not just a break in my schedule, but an open canvas where I could become closer with my classmates and display the little artistic talent that I possess.

To be completely honest, I grew up in a household where woodworking was a family tradition; distant relatives and even my own father had designed and built their own houses. When I was little, walking around and active jobsite was about as normal as going for a stroll in the park. This allowed me to grow up with a basic knowledge of carpentry, but there was always one thing that I always lacked, an artistic vision for how I wanted any given project to look. Now, maybe it was too many falling 2” by 4”’s that struck me in the head, or too many hot summer days sniffing paint fumes while painting our house as a child, but up until the start of Marin SEL engineering I never displayed any artistic usefulness. What I failed to realize was that as a student in engineering was that no matter what you will be pushed out of your personal comfort zone. For some that means cutting wood with massive saw blades or sending sparks shooting into the air as one cuts metal with a grinder. The experience that pushed me out of my comfort zone came within the first week of the class. To give a little context to the situation our first building related assignment was to create a simple spoon. Doesn’t seem that hard. Right? Well it turns out that the transition from wood block to spoon was not the easiest thing to do. I spent the first day working on that project sitting, attempting to design my spoon in a manner that would make the end product look somewhat aesthetically pleasing. I sorted through many designs always dissatisfied with the way they looked. Finally, I settled on a simple design, one that looked alright but would remain useful even after years of kitchen use. Through the spoon project and engineering class in general I came to realize that my personal creative style was represented more so by items that were simple yet functional rather than complicated and boisterous.

As the class progressed after the spoon project we began to focus on our main project that we would work on for the entire year, building a chicken coop. With the help of my totally radical group members Ben and Michael we set off the build an awesome chicken coop that would take any abuse that was put upon it in it’s lifetime. Thanks to Ms. Oropallo’s insightful instruction we were able to make an awesome design that will stand the test of time, maybe even with a little bit of style. Working together in this group has allowed me to connect with members of my class that I normally don’t connect with in an organic way that usually doesn’t happen in the typical classroom environment. The experiences that I and my classmates have had during engineering will be the ones who not only shape our high school experience but us as human beings.

Marin SEL engineering has taught me things about myself that I had not learned after 16 years on this planet. Coming out of this class I now have knowledge and practical experience that will help me in my future education and beyond, but most importantly I built relationships with my classmates that will last forever.      


  1. I agree, the design process can be hard! It’s great you were able to grow up around this kind of stuff and it’s even better that you were able to learn from this experience! Great job!

  2. Varian, first, I want to note how well this was written: the flow, structure, and word choice were all phenomenal. Second I love getting a peak at your past and seeing your family structure – I always knew that you had an interesting family history, but never knew about the skills that were passed down through your parentage. I can say, especially being in your group, your skills in woodworking are amazing. You quickly adapt and learn how to deal with a multitude of situations. Keep it up!

  3. Varian, I can honestly say that I had similar expectations for this class. The actual amount of effort we put into this project on the daily was not at all what I had previously thought. Your post was very funny, but in all seriousness your creativity is doing alright.

  4. Wow very well written! Awesome that you have some background knowledge in this area. Our class has definitely gotten closer in this class and I’m so happy about that!!! The freedom in class is great but we always find some reason to need Mr. O hahaha

  5. Varian! I completely agree that this class has turned me into an artist of sorts and I’m glad it has inspired you! This class has taught me so much about myself and I appreciated reading your honest experience about how it has shaped you too. Thank you!

  6. no wonder you are so good at everything before we even started and thanks for always helping our group when we need it! glad this class has helped you open up your creative side and your coop looks amazing!!

  7. I loved your blog Varian! I think it’s really cool that you grew up building stuff and that you had experience entering the class. I also agree with you that the class has taught me many things about myself.

  8. I liked your blog! I also lack artistic talent and creativity, and i agree that this class has pushed me to become more creative and an out of the box thinker. I also love the open endedness of the class. Can’t wait to see how your coop turns out!

  9. I love your blog, I definitely think it was the 2×4’s hitting you in the head that took away your artistic talent. Just kidding though, I feel like everyone is a lot better at art than they think they are and it just comes in different ways. I’m glad you were able to find your own way of creativity!

  10. Varian- I too had been looking forward to the MSEL Engineering class for a long time. This class is really an amazing way to get to kknow eachother while learning valuable life skill. Great blog!

  11. Varian, I thought your blog was both insightful and eloquently written! Each and every one of us have abilities and traits that come naturally, and an equally proportioned amount that come far-less naturally. But by actively choosing to attempt mastery at a skill you are not inherently good at, it shows initiative and a willingness to learn that will most certainly guarantee your success in the future! Great job!

  12. i liked your blog varian! I think its cool that you grew up around this type of work and now you get to embrace all that you’ve picked up. Also good job finding your aesthetic! simple and functional is wonderful!

  13. I agree that it is so nice to have so much freedom in the class to actually design and create things ourselves. I definitely have learned a lot in the class and I think it’s cool that you still appreciate it and like the class even though you’ve had experience!!

  14. I totally feel that about the freedom and beauty of the class design, and that everybody (no matter how much they know) has more to learn from this class. im not sure if it’s the group work, the focus, left no term projects, creativity or what, but it definitely shows you about yourself and others– all good things:)

  15. I’m glad you found your simplistic style as a a designer! Varian, you were probably the most expert coming into this class, and I thinks you have been doing great! I can also relate that this class has taught me many things and I can already feel the shaping of my being. Can’t wait to see the end result of your coop.

  16. I think we can all agree that designing is one of the hardest parts when it comes to building something from scratch. You have to make the perfect design that you love before you even look at the wood given, even if you resketch it a thousand times it still might not end up where we want to be with our design. You just got to hope for the best when it comes to designs and pay attention to detail.

  17. I really liked your blog. I also thought this class would be a break but it definitely is not and I like it because I can bond with my classmates. Engineering is a type of art and I think that this is my best art media just like yours.

  18. I too struggle in the artistic department but I’m so glad you were able to figure out what works well for you. It’s really cool how you grew up knowing how to build things because you’re so helpful in engineering class so we can ask you questions instead of pestering Ms. O 24/7. I loved reading your blog!

  19. Nice blog post Varian! Im so glad this class is helping you realize your creativity, that we all know you have, and that you are connecting with classmates even more. Cant wait to see your final coop!

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