Meet our team!

Doreen Gehry Nelson

Doreen Gehry Nelson is 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; and in 2019 was named Founding Director of Design-Based Learning by the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies–Center X for the UCLA Design-Based Learning Project.


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


She was part of a team that expanded a one-classroom DBL program at Chaparral Middle school into a 3-year program now occupying a state of the art wing at the school. She earned her Master’s degree from Cal Poly Pomona in DBL in 2007 and has experience in grades 6 through 12 in math, science, social science, technology, and credit recovery. Jennifer has been a lecturer teaching DBL through the Cal Poly College of Education and Integrative Studies and Art Center.

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.

Jessica Heim

Jessica Heim, one of our highly experienced trainers, a student of Doreen Nelson’s at Cal Poly, Pomona, who completed the M.A. program in 2016, was recently chosen to be the director of the DBL Project at UCLA's Center X. 


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. She has 15 years of teaching experience at multiple schools and grade levels within the Los Angeles Unified School District. Jessica is the right person to take Design-Based Learning into the future, to ensure this work we have struggled to build will have a solid footing for years to come.


As a classroom teacher working with diverse groups of students, she will apply her expertise and knowledge of current teaching standards and curricula to advancing Design-Based Learning. Jessica is an accomplished teacher, a unique thinker, and fiercely devoted to DBL. Doreen Nelson, the Founding Director of the Center X Design-Based Learning Project, will provide guidance as we move forward.

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. 


Daphne began her Design-Based Learning (DBL) journey in the summer of 2015 at the Summer Instittue 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 Caifornia State Polytechnic University, Pomona in 2017. 


In addition to being a classroom DBL teacher, Daphne is a DBL 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 a  at Cal Poly Pomona, for an Induction Consortium, and on her district's 'Voice and Choice' professional development days. She is proud to have introduced Doreen's innovative 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.