Marlon Family IDEAS Center

Gould Academy’s new Marlon Family IDEAS Center – which stands for Innovation, Design Thinking, Entrepreneurship, Arts, and Science – boasts an entire floor of dedicated “maker” and design thinking space that supports innovation and collaboration through building creative confidence. Applying design thinking to this creative space is based on years of practice at the Institute of Design at Stanford.

Within the IDEAS Center is the Design Thinking Studio, which acts as the hub of the design thinking wheel and provides ample, flexible space to collaborate thanks to large, movable whiteboards and furniture, not to mention space to create with enough room for a textile center as well.

Three fabrication studios support the Design Thinking Studio, including a Digital Studio with 3D printers, a laser cutter, large format printer, and vinyl cutter; a Physical Fabrication Studio with CNC routers, a band saw, table saw, drill press, and hand tools; and a Media Room complete with instruments, microphones, and recording software.

Our students are in the driver’s seat with the guidance of our Maker-in-Residence, William Ayotte. Together they use interactive design to build prototypes, re-imagine them and then repeat. The result is a student who identifies problems and creates solutions.

That’s innovation.

design thinking

Sara Shifrin coaching the prototyping process in the Marlon Family IDEAS Center.

IDEAS Center Courses Include:

Foundations for Makers

Foundations for Makers empowers students to develop the mindset and skill set of a Maker. Students receive entry level training in the physical and digital studios and basic electronics. Projects allow for tool certification with hand and power tools; experience with design construction for laser fabrication; practice with fasteners and fastening techniques for assembling 3D objects from 2D parts; and incorporating soldering techniques and basic arduino programming into woodcraft projects. This course can be used to satisfy the Visual Arts departmental graduation requirement. (Cross listed with the Visual Arts Department.)

Arduinos and Electronics

This class introduces students into the world of electronics. They learn AC and DC theory as well as how discrete components like capacitors, resistors, and transistors work and why we use them. These components are used in conjunction with Arduino based microcontrollers to complete projects that open up students to the world of modern electronics. Through the use of prototype techniques and with equipment like oscilloscopes, multimeters, and logic probes students take their first steps into the world of electronics design and the internet of things. (Cross listed with the Science Department. Earns Science departmental credit.)

Composite Constructions

Students will learn the basics of ski/snowboard design, composite construction, and shop safety. Each student will build a set of skis or a snowboard and learn how they are assembled and why certain materials are included. If you’ve ever wondered why carbon fiber makes a ski stiff and light this is the class for you. We utilize the same materials as commercial skis and your skis/snowboard can be just as functional. (Course material fee required.) This course can be used to satisfy the Visual Arts departmental graduation requirement. (Prerequisite: Design Thinking and Intro to Fabrication, Foundations for Makers, or Departmental Approval based on prior experience. Cross listed with the Visual Arts Department.)

Social Entrepreneurship

How do I know? Why do I know? What does it matter? What can I do with it? What entrepreneurial ventures have shaped history? How might I develop an entrepreneurial idea into a business? While learning from history, case studies and innovative visionaries, students explore business development strategies using the design thinking approach, develop business plans, learn to network, practice pitch sessions, and bring an idea to a business model. Throughout the course, students get hands-on experience by learning to run SA-KRED, the student run cafe. (Cross listed with History. Earns History departmental credit.)

Design Activism

This interdisciplinary project based course emphasizes design activism, which stems from design thinking. Through hands-on collaborative making, students explore historical moments of activism and discover a relevant issue to explore and do design activism in the community. Students will explore an issue and learn design thinking skills such as user-centered research, rapid prototyping, iterative implementation as well as learning how to use a variety of tools in the IDEAS Center.

Robotics and Programming

This course introduces a variety of skills from robotic design, programing, and designing to prototyping a mini-robot. Students learn how to program in Scratch and progress quickly to programming the Lego EV3 for creative problem solving. Robotic design extend to Arduino platforms and teach how to read sensors, control motors and lights, and write code to interact with the world. (Cross listed with the Computer Science Department. Earns Computer Science departmental credit.)

The Science Fiction of Climate Change Meets Design Thinking

This course offers an introduction to the study of literature by focusing on the emerging genre of climate change fiction (popularly known as “cli-fi”). Course readings invite students to think of climate change in new ways—through fiction. The essential question is: how and why does fiction, and specifically literary fiction, matter in the context of climate change? Specifically, we will read a range of short stories and novels, analyzing how features like point of view, characterization, and figurative language enhance the effects that those stories produce on their readers. We will also compare these literary texts to understand and relate to the world. The study of cli-fi text will create the baseline for an action project developed through the design thinking process. (Cross listed with the English Department. Earns English departmental credit.)

3D Design with CAD

3D design and modeling allows engineers and artists alike to quickly create complex models that can be turned into physical models or used as digital assets. This class teaches the fundamental skills to work in a 3D environment and create models. Students learn about the core concepts of both solid and polygon modeling and how they differ. There are opportunities to hold physical creations as students learn the process of preparing designs for digital fabrication and deploying the jobs. This is the perfect class for anyone looking to make their first steps as a 3D artist, engineer, architect, designer, and innovator. This course can be used to satisfy the Visual Arts departmental graduation requirement. (Cross listed with the Visual Arts Department.)

Food Science and Systems

In Food Science and Systems students will gain a basic understanding of global food systems and resilient local food systems. We’ll examine how global systems affect local systems, and vice versa. We’ll examine how small scale and global trade affects how we eat. We’ll examine how culture shapes food and how food shapes culture. We’ll look at the environmental impact of human food production, and examine the pressures applied by our growing population. We’ll explore the future of food, of biodiversity, and of species extinction. This course will dig deep for an understanding of soil science, and reach broad for an understanding of government regulation and global trade. Practical hands-on experience will be gained with local farms, in kitchens, in the laboratory, and with community groups. (Cross listed with the Science Department. Earns Science departmental credit.)

Introduction of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

This course offers an introduction to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). We will focus on RC scale UAVs. This will start with simple gliders and move on to 3 and 4 channel aircraft. We will also cover flying wings and multi rotors. Learning how each of these aircraft fly and what they can be used for is a great way to learn the skills required to be a UAV pilot. We will utilize simulators to get real life flight experience without having to do numerous repairs. Weather permitting we will fly our UAVs on the field. This is a great class if you have an interest in flight. (Cross listed with the Science Department. Earns Science departmental credit.)

Robotics and Engineering

Ready to learn how engineers design the world around use? Aspiring engineers will learn the process of designing, prototyping, and iterating designs to complete challenges using the VEX Robotics system. In this class you will learn the basics of engineering, Autodesk Fusion 360, and how to document your designs. The tasks you will need to complete will be robotic in nature which requires you to use the engineering principles to build something that works reliably and completes the tasks. (Cross listed with the Computer Science Department. Earns Computer Science departmental credit.)

The Marlon Family IDEAS Center was made possible thanks to a generous gift from the Tony and Renee Marlon Charitable Foundation.

Grow Maine ShowClick here to hear IDEAS Center Director Sara Shifrin talk design thinking on Marty Grohman’s ’85 podcast, “The Grow Maine Show.”

IDEAS Center Faculty

Sara Shifrin ’88

Director of the Marlon Family IDEAS Center
B.A. St. Michael’s College
M.A. Breadloaf School of English, Middlebury College
Apple Distinguished Educator
Maine State Librarian Hall of Excellence – STEAM Leader


Ms. Shifrin is an innovator and epitomizes what it means to be a lifelong learner. As a 1988 Gould graduate, she learned first-hand the benefits of living in a community that focuses on opportunity and growth. Early on in her career she led the English Studies Program and then developed a passion for teaching English. In her tenure as department chair, she opened the first high school Writing Center in the state of Maine. Her dedication to cultivating student curiosity has led her to two new positions at Gould: managing the newly renovated library and directing the IDEAS Center. Although her focus has shifted away from the English classroom, she continues to teach students a process of mindfulness, and fosters their creativity in the IDEAS Center and while researching in the library. Ms. Shifrin lives on campus with her husband, Mr. Brett Shifrin, math teacher, coach, and director of the Ninth Grade Program, their daughter, Mia ’19, who has a passion for the rights of girls in the world, and son, Eli, who has a flock of hens and encourages the family to learn Swahili.

William Ayotte

A.S. Central Maine Community College
Boys’ Junior Varsity Soccer Head Coach


Mr. Ayotte is Gould’s Maker-in-Residence –– a project manager whose goal is to help students bring their prototypes to reality in the Marlon Family IDEAS Center. With his A.S. in Computer Technology, not to mention a breadth of experience which he used to pursue a career in systems administration and integration, Mr. Ayotte has designed and built a number of CNC robots ranging from 3D printers to CNC Mills. What began as a hobby has now blossomed into a career in which he loves to share his skills and expertise with like-minded students and faculty. Prior to Gould, Mr. Ayotte worked at Seeds of Peace with international campers. His passion for technology and working with kids is only rivaled by his love of the outdoors and adventures in the Maine woods.