1. Why Is Inspiring Children to Become Engineers and Scientists Important?
The world has now realized that scientists and engineers will solve the most challenging global problems. As a sign of the times, U.S. President Barack Obama appeared on The Tonight Show and encouraged students to study engineering and science rather than finance.
Problems such as water shortages, the conversion of the economy from reliance on fossil fuels to alternative fuels, and a health system based on genomics and predictive maintenance rather than one based on preventive maintenance will be solved by the supreme innovators of our times: engineers and scientists.
Today, 25 percent of the world’s population is under the age of 15. Often, in many places in the world, the best way for young people to improve their position in life is to become an engineer or scientist. Thirty percent of graduates in China leave higher learning institutions with an engineering or technical degree while only five percent of U.S. graduates do. In fact, U.S. universities produce more psychologists each year than engineers. Some reports conclude that China and India combined are graduating more than 600,000 engineers a year — nearly 10 times more than the United States. Europe as a whole creates about the same number of engineers as the United States. There is debate about the quality of education as well as the engineers that are graduating from China and India; however, that does not take away from the fact that the numbers are staggering.
The bottom line is that having more engineers around the world is a good thing because competition will inspire them to solve some of the world’s biggest challenges, including decreasing our reliance on hydrocarbon fuels, cleaning the environment, and providing plentiful clean drinking water. Psychologists are important to our mental health, but engineers are important to our economic health.
Moreover, nations’ economic growth is seeded by talented engineers and scientists who create unique products in industries such as consumer electronics, semiconductor, biotech, and energy. If you believe there is a need to inspire children to become the next wave of innovators, consider these 10 simple actions.
1. Realize you get what you celebrate. If you celebrate basketball three-point shooters more than great scientists, then you may get what you celebrate. Consider balancing ESPN with the Discovery Channel.
2. Know that it is okay to have fun. Toys like Disgusting Science from Discover This use friendly germs, fuzzy molds, and fake coagulating blood to teach children about science in an entertaining way. Children love goo.
3. Get hands-on. Take an old broken electronic wireless toy car apart. Then show your children how the motors and radio work. Children love dissecting, reassembling, and learning how things fit together. If you need something more off-the-shelf, LEGO® has a robotics platform called LEGO MINDSTORMS® NXT. With MINDSTORMS, you can build a robot with motors for moving; sensors for sound, light, color, and distance; and an intelligent brick that children can program.
4. Turn engineering and science into sports. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) promotes robot competition as a sport. The program has grown into a March Madness-style event that thousands of students participate in; yet, it is a robotics competition rather than a basketball tournament.
5. Make math a game. My father made math come to life with miles per gallon calculations on vacations, frugal low-price shopping, and baseball statistics. In school, math can be dry and repetitive, so it is the parent’s job to make math come alive. Developed at the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California at Berkeley, GEMS (Great Explorations in Math and Science) is a leading resource for innovative science and mathematics education. More than 70 GEMS teacher guides and handbooks offer a wide range of learning experiences.
6. Do not criticize. Positive encouragement is essential. I love Mark Twain’s quote on criticism, “One mustn’t criticize other people on grounds where he can’t stand perpendicular himself.”
7. Make engineering and science cool. Talk about local heroes who started businesses that generated good jobs or who found a new science truth that changed the world.
8. Engage all senses. At Google Videos, search on “howstuffworks.” In two- to three-minute videos, children can see how submarines, parachutes, water metal cutters, and other things work. It is just as entertaining to children as SpongeBob SquarePants cartoons.
9. Cook together. Children love to make things with their parents. Cooking teaches lessons like things get messy and patience can lead to a big pay off.
10. Follow their lead. If your children are interested in sharks, buy them a shark tooth necklace or take them to SeaWorld to pet the sharks. Identify and research the three sharks in the movie Finding Nemo that repeat, “Fish are friends, not food.”
John Hanks is the vice president of industrial and embedded product lines at National Instruments. He holds a bachelor of science in engineering from Texas A&M University and received a master of science in engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.
Other articles by John Hanks:
How to Cultivate Your Technical Reputation: Nine Tips during Difficult Times
Eight Rules for Prototyping
Predicting the Future of Technology: Tips for Innovators
Eight Innovation Lessons from Leonardo da Vinci’s Machines