“People don’t know what an engineer is,” said Lloyd Walker, a senior in San Jose State’s college of engineering. “My dad worked on the space shuttle, so I thought everyone in engineering was a scientist--go rocket science!” said Walker, now pursuing a specialty in avionics.
I was raised in India where it is ingrained in you to become a doctor or an engineer,” said Manan Mehta. “From childhood, I wanted to make a difference. That’s why I am working for a company making strides in renewable energy,” said Mehta, now a reliability engineer at Solectria Renewables.
With a few exceptions—such as Milluzzi, whose role model is inventor and First Robotics founder Dean Kamen--the young people said they didn’t have many engineering heroes. “Everyone knows who Payton Manning is, but no one knows who is an engineer,” Mehta said.
Rather than heroes, society provides stereotypes.
“There’s a perception engineers aren’t social and don’t interact with people outside the lab,” said Pratt. “Engineering is not just about sitting in the lab--although that is awesome—it is a mindset you can apply across a broader spectrum, it will help you be more effective whatever you choose to do,” she said.
Our culture also could do a better job tolerating failure and all the messiness that comes with engineering, said panelists, many of whom grew up taking things apart to explore their inner workings.
“Edison failed a hundred times to make a light bulb, but he said he didn’t fail he just learned 100 ways not to make a light bulb,” said Milluzzi.
“Kids are naturally curious, they want to see how things work, and we just need to give them a little push,” said Kakkar.
Panelists from left, Kakkar, Milluzzi, Pratt, Walker and Mehta.