“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.
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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