Career Day Gets Students Fired Up about Engineering

IEEE members explain their profession to schoolchildren in New Jersey

18 May 2012

For eighth-grade students at Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Edison, N.J., 25 January wasn’t a typical day. Seventeen engineers who live in the area visited the school to talk about their jobs and guide students through a number of hands-on activities. While one group passed around circuit boards, students in another classroom bumped into one another to simulate interference when radio waves of similar frequencies collide. More than 300 students participated in WIE Career Day, learning about engineering, computer science, and more.

Sponsored by the IEEE New Jersey Coast Women in Engineering group, the event was designed to introduce youngsters to career opportunities in science, math, and technology, according to IEEE Member Dru Reynolds, who organized the affair. She is founder of Reynolds Recruiters, an RF- and microwave-engineering staffing and recruitment firm in Monmouth County, N.J.

 “As a job recruiter, I feel it is important to expose children to engineering early and often,” Reynolds says. “I contact principals of schools in New Jersey districts that have no engineering curricula—where students really need exposure to the field.”

Reynolds, who has organized Career Day events in New Jersey since 2009, kicks off her presentations by asking the students, “What is an engineer?” Students often struggle with the answer, she says.

“At one event with 155 students, only three hands went up—the students had relatives who were crane operators and computer technicians, so those were the examples they gave,” she says.

Adds Member Paula Muller, chair of the New Jersey Coast WIE affinity group: “We often find that students know very little about engineering. They can’t identify an engineer in the same way they can identify a lawyer, doctor, or teacher.

“But the students at Woodrow Wilson Middle School were very motivated and engaged,” Muller says. “For example, in our discussion of analog-to-digital conversion, they really grasped what I explained to them.” Muller, a vice president of Net-Scale Technologies, a technology R&D company in Morganville, N.J., has participated in several Career Day events with Reynolds.

About 20 students participated in each activity before moving on to the next. They took the opportunity to ask the engineers about what they do at work.

The presenters distributed gift bags to each student filled with engineering magazines, WIE giveaways, and information on TryEngineering, a website that features interactive games. A video of the event was posted on the school’s YouTube channel.

IEEE Senior Member Holly Cyrus talked to students about how she and other engineers design the systems that helps pilots take off and land safely. A researcher at the U.S.  Federal Aviation Administration in Atlantic City, N.J., Cyrus is an expert in navigational lighting and materials for runways.

“They asked me a lot of good questions about what I do every day, and about the different careers in aviation,” she says.

Senior Member Kai Chen showed students how engineers help get people where they need to go. He is principal engineer at the New York City Transit Authority, where he oversees development of communication systems.

Following a presentation on embedded systems, Chen passed around circuit boards and asked students to guess what kinds of common electronics they belonged to based on the boards’ markings and components.

“Computers are so embedded in the lives of young students that it’s difficult for them to imagine a world without them,” he says. “I hope programs like this will help give them a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into developing computers, so they’ll understand the technology doesn’t just happen—it relies on the work of engineers.”

Like Muller, both Cyrus and Chen participate in WIE Career Day events with Reynolds every chance they get.

“It was a Career Day just like this when I was in high school that made me decide to become an engineer,” Cyrus says.

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