Nicole Cerra, Design Thinking at

The Path to Higher Ed is a SchooLinks hosted podcast community that explores trending topics and issues in the area of college and career readiness. Our featured guests are pushing education forward by constantly learning from, innovating and applying their college and career readiness practices.

In this episode, we discuss design thinking with Nicole Cerra, Co-Founder and Director of Learning at Design Tech High School in San Mateo, California. The focus of the conversation centers on the impact that can be generated through constant iteration and technology experimentation. These tenets of design thinking pervade the school culture and are manifested in coding instruction, environmental design projects, and a Makerspace. Looking through the lens of a Design Tech HS student, there is a clear vision of student success by way of the unique self-discovery and differentiated learning opportunities offered through technology integration. As Nicole stresses, students need to apply their digital experiences in real-world scenarios in order to ensure the highest-level synthesis of learning.

Episode Link

About Nicole Cerra

Nicole began her career in education over 15 years ago mentoring at-risk teens in Seattle. She then taught English, reading, and AVID at Sweetwater High School in San Diego and Capuchino High School in the Bay Area. She also directed the 9th and 10th grade interdisciplinary teacher teams at Capuchino, where she guided teachers in personalizing instruction and developing shared practices in the classroom.

In 2012 Nicole and a small group of like-minded educators created Design Tech High School (a.k.a. “”) with the goal of providing a highly personalized education that prepares students to become innovators. opened its doors in the fall of 2014. In addition to teaching English and Design, Nicole is responsible for leading the team in curriculum development, instructional strategy, and professional learning.


Design Tech High School is a free public charter school open to residents of California. Entrance is by lottery when the number of students seeking enrollment exceeds the number of spots available. The school was founded in 2014, and the first class of seniors will graduate in 2018. The Oracle Education Foundation recently selected to become the first public high school to have a new state-of-the-art campus funded by a Silicon Valley company.

Design Tech, or ‘’ as it’s known among our students, has an explicit focus on the skills that help students forge an identity as caring citizens and young professionals. By combining academic content mastery with creative problem solving,’s goal is to give students the tools necessary for success in college and beyond.

The school has a diverse student body with wide-ranging interests that span the arts, music and dance, to the sciences and technology. A education offers an opportunity to practice collaborative problem-solving strategies (Design) as well as build confidence handling ever-evolving technological tools (Tech). To accomplish this, students are provided with eight weeks of intersessions and focused design labs to explore new topics and build credits in accordance with -or that exceed — UC requirements. believes students are most successful when their education is personalized and students are asked to use their knowledge to improve the world around them. The school also believes that students must learn not only academic skills such as literacy and mathematics, but the transferable success skills of collaboration and persistence.

The academic courses are Common Core aligned, and A-G accredited by the University of California. These are offered in addition to three signature programs: the Intersession, Design Lab and’s own ‘makerspace’, called the Design Realization Garage. Our students explore a wide-range of interests through these programs, as well as student-led clubs, and competitive sports. They are encouraged to develop core interests, and to explore a range of skills and subjects for greater understanding.

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