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News and comment from Control Engineering process industries editor, Peter Welander

Can we draw more children, especially girls, to engineering?

Some current efforts are drawing interest. Time will tell if they pay off.

November 30, 2012


Unless you’ve been living on Mars, you know that demographic changes are not helping our profession. Engineers are getting older and there aren’t enough new ones coming up through the ranks. There is much talk of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education in high school, but there are efforts to get kids engaged at even earlier ages.

One new toy line that has been making the rounds recently is Goldie Blox, which is billed as “Engineering toys for girls—meet Goldie, the girl inventor who loves to build.” This is the brainchild of Debbie Sterling, who is an engineering grad from Stanford. As she says on her website: “Engineers are solving some of the biggest challenges our society faces. They are critical to the world economy, earn higher salaries, and have greater job security. And they are 89% male. We believe engineers can’t responsibly build our world’s future without the female perspective. We are here to bring the female voice into engineering.”

Hmmm…no agenda there, although she’s probably right.

Anyhow, along those same lines, if you’ve read any cyber security articles in Control Engineering, you’ve probably seen the name Matt Luallen. He is a trainer and consultant and writes for us regularly. What you might not know is that he is also interested in kids and engineering, and has even created Secret Agent Technology Training Camp. You can send your kids to his camp, or host your own using his materials. Here’s the description: “Today's secret agents have so many tools at their fingertips, but need the right training to determine when to use which one! Learn how to run your own training camp using CYBATI's free secret agent materials.  Agents receive an overview of several spy tools and then use media production tools and a green screen to transform their identity. Next agents receive additional training in circuits, electronics, robotics, automation, and spy satellites with hands-on activities using Elenco snap-circuits, Lego Mindstorms and rockets! The week concludes with a final mission and debrief...whew!”

You can watch a video from one of his sessions. So much energy, I get tired just watching it, but lots of hands-on participation in technology.

Personally, I stand by my Erector Set. A.C. Gilbert had the right idea back in the day. An advertisement from in the 1920’s said, “Thousands of young men from 20 to 30 years old, who are today making great strides in engineering, chemistry, and other sciences were Gilbert Toy boys just a few years ago. I have watched their progress with intense interest and I will tell you that I am mighty proud that my engineering toys have started these boys on the road to success.”

Debbie Sterling will have done well if she can make a similar statement in a few years, except about girls.

Peter Welander, pwelander(at)cfemedia.com