Team Members Discussing a Prospective CAD Design at their Weekly Meeting


From the Fall of 2019 until the end of Summer 2021, the EWB-USA USC Chapter’s San Bernardino project team worked on a master planning document for the NormRose Believe Academy, a K-12 school intended to help students with learning disabilities and at-risk behavior reach their full learning potential. The Academy is “an independent, non- denominational, co-educational, not-for-profit 501(c)(3) college preparatory school” that will serve students from K-12. 


The school, led by Dr. La Theia Black, has an expected enrollment of hundreds of students. Students in grades K-12 will experience an educational program that combines academics, applied arts, athletics, therapy and vocational courses such as wood shop, metal shop, wielding, plumbing, electrical, home economics, sewing, coding, dance, cheer and firefighter training “to ensure students’ reading comprehension and math skills are grade level proficient.”


The project leads for this team were Maria Reed and Cynthia Ionova, and for the last part of the project, Neha Yadav and Enrique Perez took the lead. The club was also beyond lucky to have an amazing partner for this project! Through the organization Community Engineering Corps, which works with underserved communities to provide local infrastructure, the team worked with Dr. Black to design the NormRose Believe Academy. Dr. Black’s educational background, namely her doctoral counseling degree in psychology, made her the perfect fit to pioneer this new learning academy. Dr. Black’s commitment to education and advocacy for all students, no matter their backgrounds, is unparalleled and inspired us as a club to do our best work. Finally, the team’s mentor, Jeff, an experienced engineer from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), helped them navigate the rules and regulations for building construction, and of course adhering to guidelines.

Pre-Pandemic Photo of EWB-USA USC Chapter Members at the San Bernardino Initial Assessment Trip

The circumstances in which this project was completed were unique due to COVID-19. In an interview with former project manager Maria Reed, she explained that “COVID-19 really complicated things, from a working point of view, because we had to transition to be fully online. We used to do a lot of drawing on whiteboards together as a team, so switching to zoom and being unable to to work together as easily as we did in person was really difficult.” However, the team was able to push through the difficulties of the pandemic and has completed the master plan for the NormRose Believe Academy. 

In addition, there were other obstacles and hardships that shaped the project team and were crucial to the completion of this assignment. Maria said that “As far as the project itself, the hardest part was to make the tough decisions, especially what we would cut from the design because we couldn’t include everything. We had to talk as a team, with Jeff and Dr. Black about what we had to prioritize, and it was hard because we wanted to give school everything she [Dr.Black] had asked for.”


Potential CAD Design for the School’s Primary Buildings

The project members and the managers also had to take into account the needs of the community in order to make the best possible model and to make sure it was fit for its students. Therefore, it was crucial for the team to maintain a strong line of communication with Dr. Black and attend to the community’s requests. For example, when asked about what the most important aspects of the project were, Maria said “Dr. Black thought that a maker space was really important because she wanted the students to have a place where they could work on their projects. She also really wanted an ice hockey rink because that is also something that a lot of the students wouldn’t have access to otherwise.” However, the former SB project manager mentioned that the team would have never thought about including the ice hockey rink, which shows how important it is to listen to the community.

Considering how crucial communication was in this project, Maria was asked how the pandemic affected it with regards to the different parties involved in this project. “With Dr. Black, we didn’t face many challenges because most of the communication was online and through phone calls. The hardest part though, was our communication with Jeff, because before COVID he used to come into our meetings and bring his maps to show us what to do. We would also draw things on the board, which made the team work a lot easier.” However, Maria mentioned that “We were able to adjust and we showed him [Jeff] a lot of our CAD designs and he gave us feedback that way.”

Furthermore, as EWB offers its members tons of learning opportunities and welcomes all engineering majors, this project was no exception. Students were able to learn about CAD and gained hands-on experience. In addition, they were able to learn from their peers from different engineering majors and they had the opportunity to play a role in a team project, which is amazingly useful for future engineer jobs. This diversity in knowledge did not only benefit the students, but it also contributed to the project’s success. Maria was asked about the different engineering fields involved in the project and she explained that “this one was very civil engineering heavy, but we all brought different perspectives and we all contributed with knowledge of different softwares and systems that could be used. For example, one of our members was able to do 3D structures and drawings of our school, while most of us used autoCAD. Some other people were also able to bring in knowledge about how the pipe design might be done differently.”

Finally, after telling us how much EWB comes up in her job interviews, Maria was asked how being a part of this team and EWB in general has changed her outlook on engineering and possible career paths. To this, Maria responded: “It has definitely shown me that there is never an easy solution and that it is never just the technological solution that you have to consider. You have to look at financial aspects but also be considerate of the community needs. There is just a lot more to consider than the math problem.”


Having finalized the San Bernardino project, the team has now begun a new project in Malawi and it continues to be led by Neha and Enrique. Please check out our website if you would like to learn more about what we are doing!