Want to Spark Future Engineers? Start Early

Speaking for myself, I'm delighted that we've launched our "STEM to the Core" blog because it will help us and others begin to answer two nagging questions: 1) Where are we going to get all the new control and automation engineers we'll need once the Baby Boomers retire? 2) How can we get more young people interested in engineering in the first place?

Having done a little coverage in this area already, I've learned that it’s fine to inspire college and high school students in engineering and technology. However, the real sweet spot for lighting the engineering fire is in junior high and elementary school. Building and putting stuff together with the kids isn't just fun. It’s critical to engineering as a profession and to manufacturing and industry as a whole. No joke.

I learned this in dramatic fashion when I tagged along with my 10-year-old daughter's Junior Girl Scout Troop 938 when they journeyed to a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) session, "Engineering Your World," put on by the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana (www.girlscoutsgcnwi.org) in February 2010. The girls worked in teams to design better paper clips, create tables out of newspaper and tape, build and compete with ping pong ball launchers, design new products to solve common problems, and even come up with a marketing plan. My favorite was "Toothbrushing Ice Cream"and its motto "Just keep eating! Safe to swallow!"

I guess what I really learned was that all the future engineers are already out there. And, believe me, they're bubbling and exploding with enough ideas and enthusiasm for solving every problem they could possibly face now and in the future. Of course, they and all the other STEM and related programs could sure use some help from the real engineers out there, assuming you guys aren't too old and tired already? Just asking.  

[The short version of my column on this mind-blowing adventure, complete with a photo, is located at http://www.controlglobal.com/articles/2010/FutureEngineers1004.html.
The longer version is at http://www.controlglobal.com/articles/2010/IgnitingFutureEngineers1003.html, but it doesn’t have a photo.]

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  • <p>How right you are that all of the engineers we will need are already out there. Unfortunately, very few of these kids will pursue engineering as a career. Why? Simple: They see that you can't make a living as an engineer. Sure, it's the coolest job in the world, but if you grow up seeing your neighbor who counts money on Wall Street taking vacations to Disney World while you stay in the yard, well that sends a powerful message. In a consumption-driven society, that message is: Sure, it's cool, but if you want lots of toys, count money. Corporate executives must begin to understand that if they want more engineers to invent the products that line their pockets, they need to start sharing the wealth. Eliminate the engineering shortage by paying us more than a bowl of rice. </p>

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