Encouraging Students To Try Engineering

Hands-on activities and more visible role models could be the key

17 November 2011

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IEEE Fellow and Google’s Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf has always been a great promoter of IEEE’s benefits. The most recent example of this is a blog he wrote on Forbes.com about ways to encourage children to consider a career in engineering.

Cerf cites IEEE’s Tryengineering.org website as an excellent resource for introducing youngsters to the field. The website—aimed at students, their parents, and teachers—features lots of information on what it takes to become an engineer such as accounts of professional engineers’ work experiences, lesson plans for teachers that feature hands-on experiments, and even fun games that demonstrate what engineers do.

“We must help young people understand and experience the thrill of science and discovery,” Cerf writes. “We need to help them do real science, not just read about it, through collaborative tools that help mentors and students to interact through programs such as IEEE’s TryEngineering.org.”

One example of doing such “real science” is the website’s bionic arm design challenge, in which students design and test a virtual, bionic arm. No one doubts that learning theory is essential to an engineering education, but Cerf points out hands-on activities are critical to keeping students engaged. “People—children in particular—learn best by both seeing and doing, not by memorizing,” he writes.

Learn more about the bionic arm game and other features of TryEngineering.org in an article we published in March 2010.

Hands-on activities aren’t the only way to interest students in engineering, he adds: “The winners of our National Medals of Science and Technology deserve more public attention. Our successful scientists and engineers should be made more visible and their voices heard more clearly.” IEEE’s annual Honor’s Ceremony is another example of recognizing pioneers in engineering.

Despite the existence of such awards ceremonies, Cerf is right. The recipients of awards like the IEEE Medal of Honor deserve far more recognition than they get. But in an age when the media seems more inclined to report on trivialities like Kim Kardashian’s 72-day marriage than about who made possible the technology behind smart phones (people other than Steve Jobs), the Internet, or electric cars, how can we make that happen? While I’ve seen a few segments on CNN and other channels that showcase some cool new technology, an occasional 2-minute video isn’t enough to turn a kid on to engineering, is it?

What can be done to get more engineers into the spotlight? And what are some other ways to get students interested in engineering? Share your thoughts and ideas below.

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