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Young engineers want role models

Posted: 01 Feb 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:DesignCon? engineer? globalisation? outsourcing? First Robotics?

During the recent DesignCon, next generation of engineers have spoken to express their desire for role models. They wished for a society more tolerant of female professionals and a need to have as much encouragement as they can get.

That was the message from a panel of five young engineers at DesignCon. Most credited parents and teachers with getting them on the engineering path.

"My dad is an engineer and he said I could do whatever I wanted as long as it was engineering, but up until last year I thought engineering was one of the most boring things you could do," said Shachi Nandan Kakkar, a high school senior from Cupertino, Calif.

After his father encouraged him to write a blog for EDN, he realised "engineering is more interesting than people give it credit for!it's so broad, there's hundreds of things you can do, so find your niche and go after it," he said.

A female high school physics teacher was mentor to Amanda Pratt, now working on a masters in engineering at the University of California at Berkeley.

"It was my favourite class from the first day, thanks to encouragement from her and my father who is an engineer," said Pratt who has been accepted to the 2016 class at the Harvard Business School. "I decided I wanted to do something that mattered and have a career with an impact," she added.

"I'm an engineer by birth," recalled Andrew Milluzzi, 23-year-old doctoral student at the University of Florida. "Once I was playing with Legos and my Mom said, 'one day you will be an engineer,' and I said, 'but, Mom I don't want to drive trains," said Milluzzi who went on to become one of the youngest LabView architects certified by National Instruments.

The need for engineering heroes

"People don't know what an engineer is," said Lloyd Walker, a senior in San Jose State's college of engineering. "My dad worked on the space shuttle, so I thought everyone in engineering was a scientist!go rocket science!" said Walker, now pursuing a speciality in avionics.

I was raised in India where it is ingrained in you to become a doctor or an engineer," said Manan Mehta. "From childhood, I wanted to make a difference. That's why I am working for a company making strides in renewable energy," said Mehta, now a reliability engineer at Solectria Renewables.

With a few exceptions!such as Milluzzi, whose role model is inventor and First Robotics founder Dean Kamen!the young people said they didn't have many engineering heroes. "Everyone knows who Payton Manning is, but no one knows who is an engineer," Mehta said.

Rather than heroes, society provides stereotypes.

"There's a perception engineers aren't social and don't interact with people outside the lab," said Pratt. "Engineering is not just about sitting in the lab!although that is awesome!it is a mindset you can apply across a broader spectrum, it will help you be more effective whatever you choose to do," she said.

Our culture also could do a better job tolerating failure and all the messiness that comes with engineering, said panelists, many of whom grew up taking things apart to explore their inner workings.

"Edison failed a hundred times to make a light bulb, but he said he didn't fail he just learned 100 ways not to make a light bulb," said Milluzzi.

"Kids are naturally curious, they want to see how things work, and we just need to give them a little push," said Kakkar.

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