News Article

From What If to What Next

Engineering Capstones Impressive Achievement

Not too long ago, Oaks Christian faculty and staff started asking What If questions. 

What if we could create a space where students could be innovators and creators? 

What if that space would give our students a jump in the STEM fields? 

What if students invented not just for the sake of invention, but to solve real-world problems to improve people’s quality of life? 

Four years later, the question is no longer What If but What Next

In just four short years, a former pet supply building has become a modern, state-of-the-art Ross Family IDEA Lab, home to the OCS Institute of Engineering which focuses on aerospace, electrical, biomedical, industrial, architectural, and environmental/humanitarian fields of study. In May 2023, the first seniors to complete their course of study presented their capstone projects to a full house.  

“Four years ago, this was all just a dream,” said Associate Head of School for Academics and Arts Dr. Matt Northrop.” We have come so far, so fast. “And it's not that we are so impressed with the presentations, but that we know these students will be difference makers, change-makers in our world who will, no doubt, be a light.” 

Fourteen seniors completed capstones, and seven of them presented in May. They shared their yearlong process from postulation of an idea or thesis, discover (research) phase, modifications (failure/try again) phase and completion (success/works) phase. Skills learned included critical thinking, risk taking, idea articulation and vision, and collaboration.

“These students are exemplifying grit and perseverance. They understand that you need to ask for help from your team. You can’t go it alone.” said Institute Director and Engineering Teacher Greg Gillis-Smith. “These are life skills they are learning here.”  

Tyler Moore invented a custom 3D-printed surfboard with pressure-controlled fins that allowed a wider range of control.  

“One of the important things I have learned from Dr. Moon (math and electrical engineering teacher) is to keep trying,” he said.” When we submit something, we aren’t just done. Every mistake on the board is a signal to me to keep improving. Otherwise, I am not an engineer: I am just a tinker.” 

That mindset is what distinguishes the OCS engineering students. They don’t see themselves as just students but as bona fide engineers ready to contribute to industry and the world. 

Moore, along with classmate Tim Kabilafkas, also designed an anti-theft gasoline cap to solve the problem of gasoline and diesel fuel theft from automobiles, a definite real-world problem with the high price of gas today. Through extensive testing and product research they are now ready to market their invention, moving from the What If to the What Next stage. 

The What Next stage for the institute also includes training, outreach, and advocacy. Toward that end, the institute is launching three student positions to raise campus and Conejo Valley community awareness of the work being done. 

At the presentation, Gillis-Smith announced that HavenTan will be the engineering institute ambassador to the OCS community; Aaron Messner will be an ambassador to the outside community, and Katie Nungester will be the lead lab assistant, training alongside the faculty. 

According to a 2019 report from the United States Census Bureau, female engineers represent only about 13% of the engineering workforce. In the institute, Gillis-Smith noted that the gender distribution is nearly 50/50, giving many OCS female students an early training advantage. 

In addition to the seniors presenting, the current juniors gave their one-minute elevator pitch on their senior capstones for the following year, and Gillis-Smith invited any audience members so inclined to partner with the students in their endeavors.

Both Northrop and Gillis-Smith thanked donors, staff, and faculty over the four years that made the facility a reality.

Student Capstone Projects Below Photo


Finley Buckner: an electric guitar from scratch using the CNC router and other IDEA Lab machinery. 
Ethan Bergman: model rocket using active thrust vectoring for stabilization 
Hana Ryan: extensive green roofs with California native plants observed with a thermocouple data logger and monitoring how different light waves affect plant growth 
John Chung: manufacturing a hydrogen fuel cell from scratch 
Kayla Youhanaie: a soft vine robot for search and rescue 
Enming "Tiger" Zhang: a machine learning model that takes in the information of a golf driver swing from an accelerometer attached to a club and outputs a predicted ball angle 

Misha Jordan: safety pod specifically for college campuses 
Carson Werner: building an Artificial Intelligence chatbot in Discord 
Michelle Myers: For the Just Like You non-profit, designed and built a tea party set 
Alex Leal: water conservation and optimization garden using trash 
Evan Geske
:optical guitar pickup design, using two photodetectors and an LED, utilizes amplitude modulation and signal subtraction to pick up the string frequency without noise from room lights and minimal circuit noise 
Tim Kabilafkas: converting traditional gasoline-powered off-road motorcycle to run solely on electricity 
Alexis Lorscheider: fiber optic cable a deaf household