Camarillo High School students design and innovate with elective class

Ventura County Star |

--Peter Wachtel walks around his classroom at Camarillo High School watching as his students pull up three-dimensional renderings of cups they designed for Universal Studios.

Wachtel, using connections he had made in the product and toy design world, reached out to Universal Studios and asked if his students could create cups for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and receive input from product designers at the theme park company.

Each cup is different and took students several class periods to create. They considered the functionality of the cup, who the cup would be marketed to and what was visually the most appealing.

"We got a field trip, got a bus and took the kids over there, met with the team and went through the whole (merchandise) stand and shop and saw what they had and what they were looking for," Wachtel said. "... Then they came back here, researched it, designed it and then we took all their images and emailed sent them back."

Now, the cups will be judged by the team at Universal Studios, and could be used at the park. The student with the winning cup will receive a season pass to the theme park, Wachtel said.

"We were pretty much given free reign as to what we could do," said Carl Sloan, a junior in the computer-aided design and architecture class. "So mine, I have the sorting hat, which in Harry Potter decides which of the houses the kids are in, and then the Hogwarts logo."

The computer-aided design and architecture class is unique to Camarillo High School, Wachtel said. This class is under the umbrella of product innovation and design, he said, which includes this class and one geared toward woodwork.

Wachtel's computer-aided design and architecture class has about 30 students, ranging in grade level and expertise. It's designed to teach the students the principles of computer-aided design and architecture, let them work on the real-world application of those skills, and introduce them to a career path they may not have had in mind.

Sloan said the design process was what took awhile with the cups, and then he needed to find the different pieces he wanted to include in his design, like the logo and the sorting hat. From there, it was smooth sailing.

"It didn't take too long once I was able to design it," Sloan said as he rotated it to show the 360-degree view in the computer design program.

Sloan said he took on the elective class because he wanted to explore the world of product design a little more as he weighs his options before choosing a career path.

He said he wasn't really sure of what he wanted to pursue as a career, and "this was one of the things I was considering doing in the future and so I wanted to take this class to kind of see how I liked it. ... I like it a lot," Sloan said.

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Cristina Tong, a senior in the class, was working on a more architectural project. She designed a place where people could take photos in front of a Harry Potter-themed backdrop. Her design was a Quidditch field and a broomstick that people could sit on and have their photo taken.

"I wanted to give them a place to take a photo. Sometimes you want to take a picture and you don't know how," Tong said. "It'll be like you're in the movie."

Tong said she enjoys Wachtel's class and what she's learned so far and how it is preparing her for her future.

The students have kept busy with Wachtel at the helm. Last year, students designed merchandise for Six Flags and now Wachtel is trying to make plans to design a product for a different company or theme park.

This is all between learning the ins and outs of programs like AutoCAD, a commercial computer-aided design and drafting software application used to create precise 2-D and 3-D renderings.

Wachtel is in his second year teaching at the school, although he's been teaching industrial design at the college level for the better part of a decade, and has built the class from the ground up.

"They get field trips, they get technology, they can get college credit and they get a professional," Wachtel said. "And I like them, too. They are good kids."

The class utilizes two 3D printers, and Wachtel has worked to expose students to a new way of designing, manufacturing and learning, all the while promoting real-world design experience.

"This is something they can put on their resume," Wachtel said of the Universal Studios project. "They can see what they are doing actually matters instead of just chucking up projects on the chalkboard for them, which I do, as well, because you have to."

Wachtel, armed with an impressive resume spanning multiple years and multiple industries himself, makes it a point to teach the students things they can take with them in the future. Wachtel, before starting his career in teaching, worked for companies like Fisher-Price and designed rides at Six Flags. He has a master's degree in industrial design, as well.

"I have the whole gamut," Wachtel said. "I have high school, I have college and I know what the real world is like. ... So for the students, I'm trying to take what's going on in the real world and bring it here."

Wachtel has had the students in his classes collaborate with different clubs on campus where the class built products and items other students needed.

Wachtel's students in the woodwork class, under the same product innovation and design umbrella, also started a wood shop online business. They sell custom wood shop products made by the students to fund the program. To date, they've raised $3,500.

Students in the product innovation and design pathway can also earn college credit, Wachtel said. In a partnership with Ventura College, they can earn three credit hours for participating in one of the classes for two semesters.

For some, the class is a way to test the waters of industrial design and product development. For others, they wanted a "fun elective." The class includes all grade levels, and Wachtel said about two out of 10 students are interested in pursuing the subject as a career.

"You've got to have an open mind when you're doing it," junior James Ingram said of designing products. "I've always liked designing and stuff like that. I've always wanted to get into automotive design. ... I've got a long way to go, but I'm trying to get down the path."

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