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Home / Newsdesk / Editorial Articles / Inspire your children to become engineers and scientists
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Why is inspiring children to become engineers and scientists so important?
Editorial by JOHN HANKS, National Instruments   
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

ImageThe world has now realized that scientists and engineers will solve the most challenging global problems. As a sign of the times, U.S. President Barack Obama appeared on The Tonight Show and encouraged students to study engineering and science rather than finance.

Problems such as water shortages, the conversion of the economy from reliance on fossil fuels to alternative fuels, and a health system based on genomics and predictive maintenance rather than one based on preventive maintenance will be solved by the supreme innovators of our times: engineers and scientists.

Today, 25 percent of the world's population is under the age of 15. Often, in many places in the world, the best way for young people to improve their position in life is to become an engineer or scientist. Thirty percent of graduates in China leave higher learning institutions with an engineering or technical degree while only five percent of U.S. graduates do.

"Some reports conclude that China and India combined are graduating more than 600,000 engineers a year — nearly 10 times more than the United States."

In fact, U.S. universities produce more psychologists each year than engineers. Some reports conclude that China and India combined are graduating more than 600,000 engineers a year — nearly 10 times more than the United States. Europe as a whole creates about the same number of engineers as the United States. There is debate about the quality of education as well as the engineers that are graduating from China and India; however, that does not take away from the fact that the numbers are staggering.

The bottom line is that having more engineers around the world is a good thing because competition will inspire them to solve some of the world's biggest challenges, including decreasing our reliance on hydrocarbon fuels, cleaning the environment, and providing plentiful clean drinking water. Psychologists are important to our mental health, but engineers are important to our economic health.

Moreover, nations' economic growth is seeded by talented engineers and scientists who create unique products in industries such as consumer electronics, semiconductor, biotech, and energy. If you believe there is a need to inspire children to become the next wave of innovators, consider these 10 simple actions.

1. Realize you get what you celebrate. If you celebrate basketball three-point shooters more than great scientists, then you may get what you celebrate. Consider balancing ESPN with the Discovery Channel.

2. Know that it is okay to have fun. Toys like Disgusting Science from Discover This use friendly germs, fuzzy molds, and fake coagulating blood to teach children about science in an entertaining way. Children love goo.

Get hands on with your child. Photo: Jenny Lawson.

3. Get hands-on. Take an old broken electronic wireless toy car apart. Then show your children how the motors and radio work. Children love dissecting, reassembling, and learning how things fit together. If you need something more off-the-shelf, LEGO® has a robotics platform called LEGO MINDSTORMS® NXT. With MINDSTORMS, you can build a robot with motors for moving; sensors for sound, light, color, and distance; and an intelligent brick that children can program.

4. Turn engineering and science into sports. FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) promotes robot competition as a sport. The program has grown into a March Madness-style event that thousands of students participate in; yet, it is a robotics competition rather than a basketball tournament.

5. Make math a game. My father made math come to life with miles per gallon calculations on vacations, frugal low-price shopping, and baseball statistics. In school, math can be dry and repetitive, so it is the parent's job to make math come alive. Developed at the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California at Berkeley, GEMS (Great Explorations in Math and Science) is a leading resource for innovative science and mathematics education. More than 70 GEMS teacher guides and handbooks offer a wide range of learning experiences.

Children love dissecting, reassembling, and learning how things fit together. Photo: Roger Wilson, News Press.

6. Do not criticize. Positive encouragement is essential. I love Mark Twain's quote on criticism, "One mustn't criticize other people on grounds where he can't stand perpendicular himself."

7. Make engineering and science cool. Talk about local heroes who started businesses that generated good jobs or who found a new science truth that changed the world.

8. Engage all senses. At Google Videos, search on "howstuffworks." In two- to three-minute videos, children can see how submarines, parachutes, water metal cutters, and other things work. It is just as entertaining to children as SpongeBob SquarePants cartoons.

9. Cook together. Children love to make things with their parents. Cooking teaches lessons like things get messy and patience can lead to a big pay off.

10. Follow their lead. If your children are interested in sharks, buy them a shark tooth necklace or take them to SeaWorld to pet the sharks. Identify and research the three sharks in the movie Finding Nemo that repeat, "Fish are friends, not food."

Learn more about the LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT platform powered by NI LabVIEW, and test-drive the software.

Reprinted with permission — Copyright © 2009, National Instruments.

John Hanks is the vice president of industrial and embedded product lines at National Instruments. He holds a bachelor of science in engineering from Texas A&M University and received a master of science in engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. You may reach him by email at This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it .

LEGO® and MINDSTORMS® are registered trademarks of the the LEGO Group in the United States and other countries.


Reader comments:
#1 Re: Article: Inspire your children to become engineers and scientists
It's great that Obama is encouraging kids to get into these areas, but what is he doing to ensure that there are ENGINEERING JOBS for them once they graduate?

Until we start rebuilding a manufacturing base in the US, and eliminate the H1-B visas and other outsourcing scams, we might just end up with a generation of new engineers asking "you want fries with that"?
SCE to AUX on 11-11-2009 08:40 AM
#2 Re: Article: Inspire your children to become engineers and scientists
agreed
karlbaum on 11-11-2009 08:48 AM
#3 Re: Article: Inspire your children to become engineers and scientists
Quote:
It's great that Obama is encouraging kids to get into these areas, but what is he doing to ensure that there are ENGINEERING JOBS for them once they graduate?

Until we start rebuilding a manufacturing base in the US, and eliminate the H1-B visas and other outsourcing scams, we might just end up with a generation of new engineers asking "you want fries with that"?



I know way to many people with those degree's that end up serving food or doing something not related at all to engineering at all (ie, retail).

Working in IT, i see TON's of people who came over from asia and the middle east and end up replacing people who have years of experience just so the company can save some money. Ive been on a few projects already that went belly up because the new people didnt know jack.
NxJ on 11-11-2009 08:49 AM
#4 Re: Article: Inspire your children to become engineers and scientists
Quote:
It's great that Obama is encouraging kids to get into these areas, but what is he doing to ensure that there are ENGINEERING JOBS for them once they graduate?

Until we start rebuilding a manufacturing base in the US, and eliminate the H1-B visas and other outsourcing scams, we might just end up with a generation of new engineers asking "you want fries with that"?


I agree
karlbaum on 11-11-2009 08:50 AM
#5 Re: Article: Inspire your children to become engineers and scientists
Until we stop paying financial grads 6 and 7 (and 8) figure salaries with no repercussions for failure, it's going to be pretty hard to suggest studying harder and getting (most likely) a dead-end or contract length job for median wages.

If I had to do it all over again, I go finance, hold my nose and live in new york for a decade, then retire and build rockets full time.
JordanT on 11-11-2009 01:22 PM
#6 Re: Article: Inspire your children to become engineers and scientists
Quote:
It's great that Obama is encouraging kids to get into these areas, but what is he doing to ensure that there are ENGINEERING JOBS for them once they graduate?

Until we start rebuilding a manufacturing base in the US, and eliminate the H1-B visas and other outsourcing scams, we might just end up with a generation of new engineers asking "you want fries with that"?


Well said SCE! Education has got to be coupled a REAL federal stimulus initiative in major public works, infrastructure and manufacturing projects. And a commitment that jobs should go to Americans first.

BTW BEST advice I've received and that try make a commitment for everyday with my 7-1/2 yr old twins: Eat at least one meal a deal with your children, spend some time on a project they want to do (even if just a few minutes) and read to them at night. It's amazing where the conversations go during a meal and what we learn from the 'children's books everynight. Loving the Magic Treehouse series , highly recommended. I'm lucky with my girls, they have a joie de Vivre- they love hands on science and physics, building & flying rockets, as much as playing soccer or goofing around with TV or the stereo.
Diosces on 11-12-2009 11:40 AM
#7 Re: Article: Inspire your children to become engineers and scientists
My degree is in Psychology... I feel vaguely insulted that this is used as a negative about the state of US education.

On the other hand I'm an IT Architect not a Psychologist!
UncleVanya on 11-12-2009 04:51 PM
#8 Re: Article: Inspire your children to become engineers and scientists
I rather that the children get degrees in history and learn about the Constitution. What it means, what it stands for. Then maybe we can get qualified canidates to put in our presedential and congressional elections that know what the hell they are doing.
Davidtmp on 11-12-2009 10:54 PM
#9 Re: Article: Inspire your children to become engineers and scientists
Quote:
I rather that the children get degrees in history and learn about the Constitution. What it means, what it stands for. Then maybe we can get qualified canidates to put in our presedential and congressional elections that know what the hell they are doing.

But David, as much as I, and millions of others, would love to see this same thing, it will never matter. Ever. As a scientist or an engineer, our children can become well educated and gainfully employed. As politicians, our children will spend their lives either totally frustrated or become completely corrupt. A scientist or engineer can change the world whereas a politician will never change a thing until the entire abomination is destroyed via another American revolution.
ddmobley on 11-12-2009 11:11 PM
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