A glimpse into the future of engineering
Today's mentors create tomorrow's engineers.
I recently had a chance to see into the future, and I was pleasantly surprised. I spent a day at Intel’s Jones Farm campus in Hillsboro, Ore. The company was sponsoring the Beaverton Hillsboro Science Expo for high school students, and I was participating as a judge for the electrical and mechanical engineering category. I know our corporate host had some amazing new technology behind its security perimeter, but what captivated me were the science fair entrants and their projects. The high school students I saw in the exhibit hall are our future engineers.
I don’t have statistics correlating the number of students that participate in a science fairs that will then go on to become scientists and engineers. I do speak from personal experience because that was the path I followed—I was encouraged by my high school science teacher to get involved with science fairs. After competing for a couple of years, I was awarded a scholarship that helped me get into the engineering college at the University of Wyoming. Now I get a chance to participate in science fairs again, but this time as a judge. I can’t help but wonder if I as an individual and we as representatives of the engineering community are doing enough.
Besides judging my own category, I had time to walk around the exhibit hall to view the other categories. You could tell some students had some form of sponsorship where they were given an opportunity to work in a lab at a local university with access to some sophisticated research equipment. They had access to college professors and graduate students. I have no doubt these students will continue in the field of science, technology, engineering, or math (also known as STEM). There were other students that obviously had less mentorship. Their projects didn’t have as much polish, but I could tell during the interviews that they did not lack in comprehension.
Awards were recently handed out (check out the website at bhse.org). Some of the exhibits I saw deserve to make it all the way to the International Science and Engineering Fair held in May in Phoenix. The projects that stood out for me were the ones where the student recognized a problem, understood the science behind it, and then set forth to solve the problem. These captured the essence of what it means to be an engineer.
How will the next generation understand what it means to be an engineer and the personal satisfaction there is in solving problems that improve our civilization? Who is going to provide the encouragement, mentoring, and insight that only another engineer can provide? From my own experience and what I saw at the expo I judged, I know the STEM teachers play a major role, but most do not have the insight of a professional engineer.
Are we doing enough? I think I can be doing more, and as engineers we need to do more. Our involvement with fostering the next generation of engineers will take more than volunteering to judge a science fair exhibit or being involved at a local high school during Engineers Week once every February. I encourage anyone who has a passion for this profession to reach out to the local high school or middle school and ask the science teacher how he or she can help. If the science expo I attended is a sample of the next generation of engineers, I think the future looks pretty good. Imagine how much better it would be if we spent more time mentoring the next generation.
Timothy Kuhlman is an electrical engineer with CH2M HILL, where he is a technologist in the industrial and advanced technologies business unit. He has 22 years of experience in the field of telecommunication system design and is registered as professional engineer in 15 states. He is a member of the Consulting-Specifying Engineer editorial advisory board.
STEM mentoring examples:
ACE Mentor Program: www.acementor.org
Engineers Week: www.eweek.org
Intel Northwest Science Expo: www.nwse.org
Project Lead the Way: www.pltw.org