The engineering profession is facing some challenges as it looks towards its future workforce. The Center for Digital Education reports that Junior Achievement found a 12 percent drop in interest in STEM careers among teenage boys, and teenage girls’ interest remains at 11 percent. The survey found that the two main factors influencing teenagers’ career interests included the likelihood that they’ll be able to succeed in their career, along with the ability to help others.
Yet, the reality is the engineering is a career that can have enormous social impact on many of the challenges facing the world today, and the availability of professional associations and mentors provides support for engineers in their careers. The question, then, is: how do we expose teenagers to engineering, and help them to understand the impact that an engineering career can have?
IEEE recently launched one solution: the IEEE TryEngineering Summer Institute. This two-week, on-campus summer program (held in July) gives teens the opportunity to explore a variety of engineering disciplines in a fun, hands-on environment.
IEEE Broadcast Technology Society (BTS) 2019 Immediate Past President William T. Hayes highlighted the importance of training future generations of engineers and technologist by commenting, “I see the TryEngineering Summer Institute as the way to address a concern Carl Sagan mentioned in a 1994 article in the United Airlines magazine Hemispheres, where he said, ‘We live in a society absolutely dependent on science and technology and yet have cleverly arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. That’s a clear prescription for disaster.’ Making sure that everyone is engaged and understands the technologies and sciences that we are applying will ensure that we make the best possible decisions for sustaining our existence.”
Among many other activities, teens at the TryEngineering Summer Institute engage in hands-on projects, including:
- Creating a light sculpture using CAD software and 3D printers
- Building a fully operational smart car from scratch
- Designing a hydraulic robot arm
- Engineering a bridge and testing for structural integrity
Teens who attended last year found it to be a valuable experience that prepared them for a future career in engineering. Noemi Moreno, a 2018 student, said, “Working with microcontrollers, participating in the egg drop challenge, and designing a trebuchet, among other projects, taught me how to get comfortable working in a team quickly and the importance of good communication.”
Vicki Cohen, another 2018 student, said, “One of my favorite activities was our discussion on the ethics of engineering. This is the first engineering program I have been to that considered this aspect. We discussed everything from the inner workings and ethics of an electric chair, to the ethics of robots taking human jobs, and religious beliefs in medical practice.”
Throughout the program, teens learn how engineers can make a significant impact, while engaging with peers from around the world on one of three college campuses in New York, California, and Texas. They also get the chance to meet young engineering professionals working in the field today, go on field trips where they can watch engineers in action, and learn from inspiring guest speakers with real-world experience.
To learn more about the IEEE TryEngineering Summer Institute and to enroll, visit tryengineeringinstitute.ieee.org.
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