EWeek Activities in the Spotlight

A variety of activities and competitions are being planned for this year's National Engineers Week

13 January 2011

It’s not just championship college and professional sports teams that get to bask in glory for a couple of hours at the White House. Talented science, technology, math, and engineering students are also being given a chance to shine in the spotlight.

“If you win the NCAA championship, you come to the White House,” U.S. President Barack Obama said during the November 2009 launch of his Educate to Innovate campaign, his pledge to move American students from the middle to the top of the global pack in science and math achievement in the next decade. “Well, if you’re a young person and you produce the best experiment or design, the best hardware or software, you ought to be recognized for that achievement, too.”

eweek 2010 Future City Competition winners meet with U.S. President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. Official White House Photo

So don’t be surprised if some of the winning 2011 Future City Competition teams from this year’s U.S. National Engineers Week (EWeek) activities—being celebrated 20 to 26 February—also make an appearance at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

EWeek is dedicated to fostering a vibrant and diverse engineering workforce by promoting interest in the profession and in technical careers among youngsters. It also tries to raise public awareness of, and appreciation for, the key role engineers play in making the world safer and more enjoyable.

Future City is an engineering design competition in which middle school students implement their ideas for a new city in software and a tabletop model. About 33 000 students participated last year.

The 2010 national championship team of the EWeek Future City Competition, Davidson IB Middle School of North Carolina, visited the White House in February along with the regional champions from Florida, Michigan, and Nebraska. The teams met with Obama and spoke by video link to astronauts aboard the International Space Station as well as the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Speaking at the White House Science Fair in October, the president said competitions such as Future City can play key roles in the nation’s future. “It’s in these pursuits that talents are discovered [and] passions are lit, and the future scientists, engineers, inventors, and entrepreneurs are born,” he said. “That’s what’s going to help ensure that we succeed in the next century, that we’re leading the world in developing the technologies, businesses, and industries of the future.”

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and Raytheon Co. are this year’s co-chairs of National Engineers Week.

IEEE-USA President Ron Jensen often participates in school outreach activities during EWeek in Rochester, Minn., his hometown. This year he plans to be at the Future City National Finals in Washington on 22 February as 35 teams from across the United States vie for first place.

Bentley Systems sponsors the top Future City prize, and the second-place prize is sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers. IEEE-USA sponsors the third-place prize and the communications systems award, given to the squad judged to have designed and built “the most efficient and accurate communications system.” Jensen is scheduled to present plaques to members of the third-place team as well as the winners of the IEEE-USA Best Communications System Award.

“I think EWeek is a great way to reach out to youth and give them an opportunity to understand what engineering is about,” Jensen says. “I don’t believe they have a very good impression or understanding of what engineers are about or what they’re like. EWeek provides youngsters a good chance to experience some aspect of engineering and realize that it’s a fun and exciting career.”

EWeek 2011 actually will be launched in the nation’s capital a day early, on 19 February, with the Discover Engineering Family Day . The event, which engages children in hands-on, thought-provoking engineering activities, takes place in the National Building Museum and is that much-visited museum’s second-best-attended annual event. IEEE-USA, the EWeek Foundation, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers are the day’s major financial sponsors.

Family Day volunteers come from engineering societies, industrial companies, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation, the Semiconductor Industry Association, the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program, and elsewhere. Activities from the WGBH engineering reality TV show Design Squad also are on the agenda.

At an exhibit booth sponsored by IEEE-USA, local members plan to demonstrate how electric motors and other devices work. Students, parents, and teachers who display the most interest will receive a breadboard project kit.

“The value to our young attendees is like the value of a seed to a farmer,” says Bruce Cranford, a semi-retired aerospace engineer and chair of the Family Day Planning Committee. “We plant new ideas and knowledge in their minds and hope they’ll bloom with a better understanding of the world.”

On Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, 24 February, female engineers, with support from their male colleagues, will talk to preuniversity students about engineering careers, as well as math and science education. Organizers hope to reach 1 million girls in the course of the day. IBM spearheaded the day’s formation 10 years ago, and the IEEE Women in Engineering affinity group is now involved with the effort.

This year, the ASHRAE group will launch a new program to showcase the contributions to technology made by college students. The program is similar to the U.S. National Engineers Week Foundation’s New Faces of Engineering program which highlights the vitality, diversity, and contributions of engineers younger than 30. The foundation is a coalition of more than 100 corporations, government agencies, and professional societies including IEEE.

IEEE-USA has been selected to cochair EWeek in 2014, and is working to secure a corporate partner.

For ideas on how to volunteer, see the EWeek Get Involved site.

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