SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The next generation of engineers wants more role models, a society more tolerant of female professionals and all the messy imperfections of people who like to pull things apart--and as much encouragement as they can get. Otherwise, they are coming along just fine, thank you.
That was the message from a panel of five young engineers at DesignCon here. Most credited parents and teachers with getting them on the engineering path.
“My dad is an engineer and he said I could do whatever I wanted as long as it was engineering, but up until last year I thought engineering was one of the most boring things you could do,” said Shachi Nandan Kakkar, a high school senior from Cupertino, Calif.
After his father encouraged him to write a blog for EDN, he realized “engineering is more interesting than people give it credit for—it’s so broad, there’s hundreds of things you can do, so find your niche and go after it,” he said.
A female high school physics teacher was mentor to Amanda Pratt, now working on a masters in engineering at the University of California at Berkeley.
“It was my favorite class from the first day, thanks to encouragement from her and my father who is an engineer,” said Pratt who has been accepted to the 2016 class at the Harvard Business School. “I decided I wanted to do something that mattered and have a career with an impact,” she added.
“I’m an engineer by birth,” recalled Andrew Milluzzi, 23-year-old doctoral student at the University of Florida. “Once I was playing with Legos and my Mom said, ‘one day you will be an engineer,’ and I said, ‘but, Mom I don’t want to drive trains,” said Milluzzi who went on to become one of the youngest LabView architects certified by National Instruments.
Kakkar (left) and Milluzzi shared their enthusiasm for engineering.
I noticed that you posted this the same day the blog post was published. I would like to emphasize that the comment section is not a classified section for you to promote other blogs, more so because it has nothing to do with this article - it is just your son's writing.
My wanting changes in perception isn't about me. It is about the future of our profession and our kids. The mythbusters are creative technicians, they aren't engineers and it shows in every show they produce. But they do create interest and unlike many "techies" they seem to know their limits; both good things. The real problem is that we don't have people like vonBraun who are both highly educated engineers and popular figures. If I might refer to the movie "October Sky", we need the perception to be more like Homer, and less like Quentin.
I agree. One thing that helps is the program. Having been involved with FIRST (through FIRST Lego League) myself they have great programs. They promote and generate interest in engineering. They also promote mentoring. Several of the members of the team I coached last year who had aged out of FLL, came back to mentor other teams in the area. They still compete on the High School's FTC and FRC teams.
The family tie probably helps, but I agree it's not necessary. There were no engineers in my extended family or my parents' circle of friends when I decided to pursue engineering.
I also agree that high schools teach science & math, but not much about engineering. Even as a parent of an engineering student -- one who always excelled at and enjoyed math & science -- I remember her trying to decide on a college major and her career goals and asking me lots of questions about what is engineering and what do engineers actually do.
I think that is symptomatic of a more general lack of career counseling at the high school level. Lots of students -- very bright and hard-working students -- come out of high school with very little idea of their many career possibilities and matching those to their interests & skills. It's no surprise that so many college students change majors during the course of their studies.
My first boss at Motorola told me that engineers are essentially the blue collar workers in companies that design things. Having just received my Ph.D., I didn't really appreciate what he said. Now after working over 20 years as an engineer, I can appreciate what he means.
Mythbusters. I'm not sure how you could get larger more public science and engineering role models than they are.
Every industry has its "behind the scenes" people. For Theater it is the "techy", in the movies it is the "grip or set guy", in music it is the "sound guy", etc. These people are never seen and don't get to "take a bow" at the end of the show. However, if the lights fair during a performance, you think the audience will blame the actors? Heh.
If you are looking for public recognition, appreciation, credit, or changing stereotypes, you better find another line of work. Otherwise you are talking about changing human nature, and that just won't happen.
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