Discover Engineering Family Day Scales New Heights

Discover Engineering Family Day Scales New Heights

BY Chris McManes Posted: 1 Jan 2014

Want to see an engineer soar to the top of the National Building Museum? Then you need to come to Discover Engineering Family Day in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, 22 February.

Nate Ball, co-host of the PBS Kids engineering design TV show Design Squad Nation, is returning to demonstrate Atlas Devices’ Atlas Power Ascender, which will carry him 122 feet above ground. In between his hourly presentations, he will tell thousands of visitors about his career and his role in designing the device.

Ball is “extremely excited” to be soaring at Family Day for the first time since 2011.

“It’s always fun doing these demos, but this event has a unique combination of the ideal audience to feel really excited about it, and it’s just the coolest venue to get to demo in — ever,” Ball said. “The 12-story indoor space is unparalleled; there’s just nothing like it. Putting those two together make it one of my favorite events to participate in.”

The Atlas Power Ascender allows a user to ascend rapidly up buildings and other vertical surfaces. Ball has demonstrated it many times but says none were as fun as Family Day. He also enjoys recounting the story of innovation behind it.

“I’ve been doing so many demos for so long on ropes now that I’m not really afraid of heights as long as I’m attached in there,” he said, “but I still get butterflies in my stomach when I’m at the top of that rope looking down. The people are so tiny.”

Bruce Cranford, P.E., chair of the Discover Engineering Family Day Planning Committee, is also excited by the return of Ball’s aerial showmanship to Family Day.

“He’s always been a great draw and a real inspiration for the students to see what exciting things an engineer can do,” Cranford said. “Seeing him can help spur their interest in engineering.”

IEEE-USA is lead society for Engineers Week this year and is working with its corporate partner, DuPont, to lead EWeek 2014 (16-22 February).

IEEE-USA and DuPont are also presenting sponsors of Family Day 2014, which has been held in the Great Hall of the National Building Museum since 1998. Booz Allen Hamilton and the DiscoverE Foundation also provide major support.

IEEE-USA, which is coordinating IEEE’s participation in EWeek, helped found the festival in 1993 and has supported it ever since.

“I think IEEE-USA is absolutely essential to the success of Family Day, not only this year but in the past because of their continuing support and sweat equity, as well as the cold, hard cash they provide,” Cranford said. “I wish other technical societies would be as enthusiastic about this as IEEE-USA.”

EWeek raises public awareness of engineers’ creative problem-solving ability and their contributions to society. Another goal is to inspire students to pursue a career in engineering.

Family Day shines a spotlight on these areas and promotes the importance of technological literacy. Whether one works to create technology or not, nearly all of us use it. Those who do it well find that it can really make a difference in their careers.

Cranford, a fellow of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and semi-retired aerospace engineer, appreciates the vibrancy and enthusiasm Ball brings to engineering.

“I think Nate is a great role model,” he said. “It’s nice to have middle school students see that you can be young and vivacious and outgoing and be an engineer, which sorts of breaks the stereotypical mold of what is portrayed on TV.”

Not of This World

Dr. Roger Crouch, an astronaut on five Spacelab flights and two Space Shuttle Columbia missions — STS-83 and STS-94 — will for the third straight year be on hand to sign autographs and pose for photos with Family Day attendees. The former NASA payload specialist and program scientist likes to recount stories from soaring through space.

“There’s always a line to get to meet and talk to him,” Cranford said. “He’s a really nice guy — very personable. The kids like him because he’s approachable. When he talks to them and tells them some stories, you can see their eyes light up.”

In addition to flying high, Ball will talk about a new science and engineering chapter book series that he’s writing. Alien in My Pocket is geared toward second- to sixth-graders, and the first two of six books have been published.

“It’s about a fourth-grader named Zack who has his bedroom invaded by a tiny alien that aims to take over the earth,” Ball said. “It turns out that the humans are quite a bit larger than expected. So now this alien is trapped, and he needs his buddy Zack to learn a little bit of science and engineering to help keep him safe and help him get back home.”

Cranford thinks Ball and Crouch help represent the breadth and diversity of engineering talent.

“On one end you have Nate, a young entrepreneur and inventor; and on the other end, you have Roger, a senior astronaut,” Cranford said. “They show that there are many types of engineers out there, and they do all kinds of exciting things. It makes for a nice, complete picture of what the engineering and scientific community can offer.”

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Chris McManes is IEEE-USA’s public relations manager.

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