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Growing the engineering profession

 February 20, 2017

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By Peg Gotthold, BSME - a STEM Advocate, Founder and President of STEMster.

Read the literature. The need for engineers is increasing. Recent studies, however, indicate that enrolment in the engineering curriculum is falling, falling during a time of organised initiatives aimed to increase interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) careers.

Why aren't we seeing girls jump at engineering careers?

Here are one engineer’s thoughts. Young children approach the world with curiosity. They pepper the adults in their lives with questions about the world they experience. As they grow, children enter the world of the commonplace. School, sport, dance, video games, music fill the day with predictability and rules of interaction with brief periods for creativity. During this time, children experience the compassion of other. They admire the firefighter who rescues kittens from trees, the physician who can make an ear ache disappear, the teacher, the plumber who restored the household hot water.

Then comes the decision time for a career. That choice is not a discrete point decision. It flows from the continuum of experience, acted upon under peer pressure. Too often, this includes the impression that math and science are too hard, are only for geeks or is impossible since they are not the top of their class.

What careers are selected?

Engineering does not make into the top five. If engineering is under consideration, what will the student discover about our profession? “An engineer solves problems” - a phrase that is deadly dull. And so, the numbers fall.

Currently, there are two main methods for promoting engineering and science careers: providing resources to teachers and to schools; or providing resource directly to students. The first predominates in the States. The UK activities are more focused on individual students. A report by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) concludes that a successful program combines both approaches. This is where we engineers enter. We are the best to communicate the value of a career in engineering.

So what are some pertinent suggestions?

Reconnecting curiosity - There young people in your life. Introduce them to nearby science museums. View the night sky, especially if there is a meteor shower or lunar ellipse scheduled. 

- Find out about student-orientated science programs and offer to drive a group of student to attend.
- Connect with science teachers and offer your assistance activities such as robot builds. Bring the “why” back to these activities. Why are robots needed?
- Volunteer to be a science fair judge.

Showcasing compassion - Participate in community projects as a part of your local engineering societies, make sure that this participation is publicized.
- If you work for an engineering company, ask for sponsorship in disaster response activities.
- A major reason given for selecting a career path is the opportunity to help people, so promote engineering as a helping profession.

Overcoming the commonplace - Find opportunities and tell your story to students investigating possible careers. Dispel the myths.
- Volunteer to talk at career nights.
- Contact the local guidance counselors and volunteer to be a resource.
- Contact the admission department of your university or a local university. Volunteer to be a resource person for College Nights.
- Wherever you can counter the stereotypes of engineering. Engineers are a diverse group of people who work with others to improve the lives of others.

Communicate - again, tell your story.
- Engineers wear several hats. Talk about your duties in the areas of business management, project management, marketing, etc.
- There are several groups who are facilitating the link between professionals and the classroom.
- Do an internet search for STEM and see what opportunities for talking about engineering are available in your area.
- Contact those organizations working to increase interest in STEM careers and express your interest.

These are some ideas to grow the number of student entering the engineering profession, to prime the imagination. Find your unique way.

About the Author
Peg Gotthold, BSME, is an engineer with over 30 years experience. Her career includes experience in project management, marketing, research and development and commercialising European technologies for the US market. A STEM Advocate, she is the Founder and President of STEMster.

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