Families Rule at Engineers Week

This year’s Family Day is set for 21 February

8 January 2009

Inaugural balls. Christmas concerts. An international economic summit. The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., has hosted a number of high-profile events but you won’t find partygoers or heads of state at those that set attendance records.

The annual Discover Engineering Family Day Festival usually nabs that prize, attracting anywhere from 7000 to 8000 people. This year’s Family Day is set for 21 February and will conclude U.S. Engineers Week (EWeek) activities in the nation’s capital. EWeek 2009 runs from 15 to 21 February.

Family Day—now in its 17th year—has been a hit despite February’s cold and occasional icy weather. Family Day and events associated with the National Cherry Blossom Festival draw the museum’s largest crowds, according to Joanne Seelig, family programs coordinator for the National Building Museum.

Volunteers from different technical societies and organizations provide hands-on (and “minds-on”) engineering activities for children, mostly 6- to 12-year-olds. Youngsters have built model bridges, participated in robotics competitions, and learned about the engineering that goes into building race cars.

At IEEE-USA’s booth, members like Kerry Hartman, Syed Ahmed, Maria Rodriguez, and Murty Polavarapu will demonstrate how electric motors and various electronic devices operate. Hartman has a number of breadboard project kits—complete with parts and instructions—that he gives to the students showing the most interest.

IEEE Member Nate Ball, host of the engineering-based PBS reality-TV show “Design Squad,” will be on hand again this year to demonstrate his company’s patented Powered Rope Ascender, a device that lets soldiers and rescue personnel rapidly ascend natural and man-made structures. Last year, the kids got a kick out of Ball ascending to the ceiling of the National Building Museum. The device is a product of Atlas Devices, in Cambridge, Mass., which Ball cofounded five years ago.

New this year to Family Day is Fidgit, an online, multiplayer “Design Squad” game that tests players’ problem-solving and design-process skills. IEEE is a major sponsor of “Design Squad.”

FOCUS ON ENGINEERING Bruce Cranford, a semi-retired aerospace engineer and a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, is chair of the Family Day Planning Committee. According to Cranford, it’s important to have an event that focuses on engineers and engineering.

“It elevates engineering in young students’ consciousness and in their family’s awareness,” Cranford says. “It teaches them what engineering is about because we don’t really have a lot of TV shows that feature it, so it’s not generally known what engineers do. The day’s activities show people, including students and parents, what engineers do.

“We hope that people come and enjoy themselves and take away a little more information about technology in general, and engineers in particular,” he adds.

The IEEE and the National Engineers Week Foundation are Family Day’s principal financial supporters. Other supporters include the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), the Project Management Institute, and Northrop Grumman Corp. Electronic Systems, among others. SIA joined the committee in 2007 at the invitation of IEEE-USA.

Ian Steff, SIA’s deputy director of government affairs, is so enthusiastic about the event that he became vice chairman of the planning committee.

“We’re pleased to be a sponsor of Family Day and highly value this important partnership with IEEE-USA,” Steff said in a written statement. “Telling kids that engineering and science are exciting fields is one thing, but demonstrating the endless possibilities associated with these careers through hands-on activities and conversations with those who work in the field is much more meaningful.

“These engagements open doors, turn on lights, and ignite the imagination of the next generation in a way unmatched by other efforts,” he wrote.

FUTURE CITY Family Day is just one of many EWeek programs that IEEE supports financially. For example, the institute has supported the Future City Competition since 1992.

IEEE Senior Member Mike Andrews is chair of the Future City Advisory Board and one of eight IEEE members who serve as regional coordinators. They will attend the Future City national finals near Capitol Hill when the competition concludes its 17th year during EWeek.

EWeek is dedicated to ensuring a vibrant and diverse future engineering workforce by promoting interest in engineering and technology careers among youngsters. It also tries to raise public awareness of and appreciation for the key role engineers play in making our world a safer and more enjoyable place in which to live, work, and play.

EWeek 2009 is cochaired by Intel Corp., and the National Society of Professional Engineers, which founded EWeek in 1951. IEEE served as cochair in 1993 and 2004.

For more on EWeek and how you can participate in its many programs, visit http://www.eweek.org.

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