How GEA Encourages Critical Thinking



With the new year starting and in-person school returning, Green Engineering Academy is starting to thrive again. 

GEA is different from normal engineering because of its green and sustainable practices, environmental and community work, and focus on social justice and equity.


GEA focuses on green practices by making community partnerships and working on local, relevant projects, such as the Climate Action Plan with the City of Livermore. (The CAP is an effort towards reducing greenhouse gases.) In the case of affordable housing, they give feedback towards different design plans. 

Dorothy Morallos (a GEA instructor) explains the process in which she teaches her students. “I actually don’t find it to be like I’m teaching. What we do is show these different concepts and then we let our students apply them in different ways. They’re not just pulling from whatever.” 

In all of their projects, they try to apply these principles to their work. The class is looking for ways that allow them to reduce carbon levels through scientific strategies. One of their plans is to make solar-powered inventions, in order to reduce everyday use of electricity. 

Mrs. Morallos is talking about beam analysis in class, and they are using it to figure out the stability of the beams in the gym for Livermore HIgh School. They also use CAD software (computer-aided design) and receive feedback from real-life engineers.

But there is something important for the students of LHS to know: the class is not just about being an engineer; the goal is to teach you about critical thinking by solving problems and thinking outside the box. 

“Being able to pull from all of your past knowledge from different subjects and putting it together to apply to something new is critical thinking,” says Mrs. Morallos. “If they want to use [those skills] for engineering, that’s great, if they want to use that for being a doctor, great, if they want to use that for something else-it’s just an applicable skill no matter where you go.” Her goal is never to just make engineers, but help her students with any career they are interested in.

GEA is multidisciplinary, which means that they learn from every subject in the program. They use the information they learn to form creative solutions for problems. Even if you do not consider yourself to be the smartest in class, GEA is just about using your imagination and working hard. Mrs. Morallos promises she will support her students along the way, and knows that “everyone has something to bring to the table.”

There aren’t any tests in GEA and the class is made entirely of hands-on projects. She makes these projects as relevant as possible and has her students work on problems currently inside our community. Their work is presented to the whole community, which gives them more investment than an essay would, says Mrs. Morallos. Everyone can make a difference in GEA through their work.

 “It’s really important for the students to feel that the work they’re doing goes beyond the classroom.” 

GEA also gives its students lots of opportunities for the future. Because of their work in the community, they’ve had internships, mentorships, and different speakers that visit the class.  These speakers can include alumni (graduated students), people in the industry, and even some of the students’ parents. “It’s a really big community that extends beyond 9 through 12 now.”  Every year, at least two students have gotten internships for Lawrence Livermore Lab for the summer. 

“Since [GEA’s] inception, we’ve had that California Distinguished School award,” Mrs. Morallos states. “A big part of that Distinguished School award is because of the things we’re doing at GEA.” According to her, students from Dublin High have moved all the way here just to take this program. GEA gives the school a lot of positive press through the partnerships and community work.

Mrs. Morallos’s favorite aspect of GEA is that nothing is ever the same in the class, because of the open-ended projects. “While I might be teaching a lot of the same concepts, the end projects are always different.” 

The projects can change, or GEA gets a new partner, and the scope is always different. Occasionally her students come up with great ideas or projects that Mrs. Morallos would have never thought of, she says. “There’s just so much room for new things and it’s engaging and it’s never boring. That’s one thing. It’s never boring.”

The total capacity for the GEA freshman class is sixty-six students, or about two maximum classes. They have a waitlist of twelve students or more each year. Usually you join if you are a freshman, but sophomores and juniors can join the classes if some of the students drop, which can happen. 

“The one thing with Green Engineering is that it kind of limits your schedule because of the classes you have to take.” You have to be confident about joining GEA, because it is a commitment. Once you join GEA, you are expected to stay there for the rest of your time in high school.