Ask a middle or high school kid his or her choice of a career and there is a one in ten chance the kid will choose engineering! When my institution has hosted Bring Your Children to Work Day and I ask kids to name the top five careers of choice, rarely is engineering mentioned. Particularly in rural areas the top choices are nurse, firemen, teacher, and police officer. We need all the above professions to grow and thrive. However, the fact that our kids often have limited knowledge about career choices should be of grave concern to corporate America. What can we do to get our children to select science and engineering professions?
On a lighter note, the best way to attract kids is to launch a popular TV Show! You know what happened to forensic science programs across the country when CSI aired? How about LA Law or Boston Legal? Lawyers look cool! How about ER? Sounds exciting to work in health care? Any one has any ideas about launching an exciting show about engineers? Now that would be a true mark of a creative genius!
There is a wonderful article on MSN Encarta titled, "Engineers Do What?" by Vicki Salemi. Often when we talk about skills needed to be an engineer to kids, we start with, "You must be good at math!" and even before you finish that sentence you have lost atleast 75% of the kids! When you follow that up with, "You must be good in science!" another 10% to 15% are yawning.
Instead, I recommend we begin these discussions with "You must have excellent people skills!" Most kids believe that they are people-oriented. After all, according to them, they love to hang out with their friends, don’t they? Next state the importance of being able to solve tough problems. Give examples of challenges that engineers face from building space stations and bridges to designing cardiac equipment and ipods! Now you really have their interest. This is not to minimize the role of math and science. Instead it gets kids interested in the profession. It gets them to visualize engineering in a positive light. If we lose 80% of the kids in the first five minutes of a discussion on begin an engineer, we are shooting ourselves in the foot!