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The Road From the Innovation Lab to MIT to Entrepreneurship

By Katie Sigeti ’06, philanthropy manager, alumni programs
Alumnus Rostam Reifschneider ’17 shares how LJCDS Design and Innovation classes changed his life
Rostam Reifschneider ’17 is the embodiment of how LJCDS’ Design and Innovation program has shaped lives. Rostam took design and innovation classes as a junior and senior—a decision he hails as one of the best he has ever made.

While most of his classes began with a review of the syllabus on the first day, Rostam’s design and innovation class immediately began with a project—building a laptop charging station for 20 laptops. “By starting with a project, we would need to learn tools like 3D design in SolidWorks,” he says. “This ended up being a highly effective method for me, which is also employed in many project-based mechanical engineering classes at MIT.”

Design and Innovation became an integral part of Rostam’s Upper School experience. “I ended up spending all of my free blocks and lunch periods in the lab to work on personal projects,” he shares. “As long as I adequately progressed on class projects during class time, this was always welcome. That freedom to use the Innovation Lab for just about anything I could think of is what I miss the most about my experience at LJCDS.”

Rostam’s entrepreneurial mindset began in the lab. “A friend came to me with an idea for a high-tech skating accessory, and we started a Kickstarter-funded company called ‘Meraki Skate.’ Our pitch to the Torrey Explorer’s Fund was my first formal venture capital (VC) pitch, foreshadowing my future career as an entrepreneur.” 

Rostam graduated from MIT with a Bachelor of Engineering degree in mechanical engineering with entrepreneurial finance and management. He credits LJCDS’ Design and Innovation program with preparing him for his undergraduate studies. “To most high school students, the concept of an ‘Innovation Lab’ would be completely foreign until they reached college. The ‘design thinking’ process was totally new to most of my peers at MIT because their high schools did not have a curriculum like LJCDS’ Design and Innovation program. Of the very few students I met at MIT that had attended high schools with similar programs, none quite matched up to ours. Having a laser cutter, CNC mill, 3D printer, soldering station, and more all in a high school shop was unheard of.”

After MIT, Rostam and LJCDS classmate Julian Davis ’17 started a VC-backed cleantech company called Hydrova, which recently raised $1 million in seed funding to accelerate the transition to a circular economy in the aluminum industry. “Even now, while working on an advanced chemical process, the Design and Innovation curriculum lessons apply,” Rostam says. “We constantly step back to make sure we are developing something that the customer wants and have done hundreds of customer interviews. Most startup companies fail, yet we have beat the odds so far. I believe that is only possible due to the preparation that began with the Design and Innovation program, then the Meraki Skate entrepreneurship trial run, and finally the MIT Mechanical Engineering curriculum.”

Since its inception in 2015, the Design and Innovation program has benefited from the generosity of 40 donors who gifted nearly $650,000 to support its growth. Rostam was in one of the first classes to benefit from the program when it began with 22 Upper School students. Now eight years later, the Design and Innovation program serves more than 100 Upper School students each year, more than 100 students in Grades 7–8, and all students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Looking back at his overall LJCDS experience, Rostam shares his gratitude for his teacher-mentors. “The LJCDS faculty is absolutely best-in-class,” he says. “The teachers have outstanding backgrounds in their fields. With ample resources, these teachers are able to truly master their craft. The passion shared by the teachers for their subjects is unparalleled. That passion rubs off on the students. In my experience, if I needed help outside of class, teachers were always more than willing to dedicate one-on-one time to give me the extra attention I needed to succeed.”

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