Where Have All the Young Engineers Gone?

02.10.2006 | Campus and Community, Students, EngineeringYou could call it the real cast of "Revenge of the Nerds." But, for University of Dayton engineering students, the geeky garb, egg dropping and calculator crushing are a celebration of National Engineers Week, Feb. 19-25, and an effort to expose the fun side of an industry being avoided by the nation's youth.

"(Interest in) engineering certainly has been flat nationwide," said Kevin Hallinan, chair of UD's mechanical and aerospace engineering department. "It's been flat here and statewide."

A recent Raytheon Corp. survey of American students found that 84 percent would rather clean their room, eat their vegetables, go to the dentist or take out the garbage than do their math homework. Only one-third of the students reported liking math a great deal.

The National Science Foundation said more than half of U.S. doctorate degrees in physics, engineering, mathematics and computer science, are awarded to non-U.S. citizens.

As many high schoolers turn toward careers they perceive as more interesting than the sciences, universities like the University of Dayton are developing curricula and events that focus on more than just books.

For example, first-year UD students have worked on developing adaptive eating devices for disabled children and a backpack containing a portable plane that someday may be used by law enforcement in the fight against terrorism.

Margie Pinnell, an assistant mechanical engineering professor, recently was awarded a $200,000 community outreach grant from the National Science Foundation to help develop science and technology programs in inner-city schools and summer programs.

Last year, UD became part of a five-year, $9 million National Science Foundation effort with 14 other Ohio universities to attract undergraduates into science. The money will focus on research in the students' first two years of college whether they are at a two- or four-year institution.

"It is a tremendous opportunity for UD to expand our curriculum to make the sciences more attractive to undergraduate students," said Dave Johnson, UD chemistry department chair. "When fully implemented, it will change the nature of undergraduate chemistry laboratory classes to incorporate students into the scientific thought process. We should not only teach students science but how to think like a scientist."

Area high school juniors and seniors are invited to UD's free Explore Engineering Day from 12-5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25, in Kettering Laboratories to hear from UD engineering students and to participate in hands-on activities involving all engineering disciplines.

UD engineering students will be judged on the nerdiest look from 4-5 p.m. Monday, Feb. 20, in the Kennedy Union lobby. They will vie to see who can protect an egg from a three-story fall from Alumni Hall at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 21. The most damage inflicted by hurling a calculator against the south wall of Kettering Laboratories at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22, also receives a prize. Another competition from 4-6 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23, in Humanities Plaza rewards the group that builds the best structure from canned food items, which eventually will be donated to House of Bread soup kitchen.

Engineers Week was founded in 1951 by the National Society of Engineers. According to the National Engineers Week Foundation, the week has evolved into a coalition of engineering, education, cultural, corporate and government entities dedicated to motivating children to pursue engineering careers to provide a diverse, vigorous engineering workforce.

Wright State University, The Ohio State University and Case Western Reserve University are among the Ohio colleges organizing Engineers Week activities.

For more information, contact Kevin Hallinan at (937) 229-2835. For interviews, contact Shawn Robinson at (937) 229-3391.