Developing Our Youth

May 25, 2007

Imagine using a computer software program to simulate a futuristic city; building a model replica of this city; writing an essay and developing a presentation that highlights your city’s energy, aesthetic qualities, and public utilities; and performing these activities in a group of 7th and 8th grade students. No need to imagine. The Future City Competition (FCC) established in 1992 by National Engineer’s Week currently reaches 30,000 students from 1,100 schools in 38 regions of the United States. The FCC employs a team-based approach, where teams of students design and present their vision of what a city of the future should look like.

The competition taught us that engineering is almost a limitless pursuit. You can sit down and think about what the world needs and then just do it. It’s almost artistic with all the imagination you get to use.”

FCC student participant (Click to check out the Future City website)

The FCC promotes the development of problem-solving, team work, research and presentation skills, practical math and science applications, and computer skills for our students. Overall, the FCC strives to meet its mission by “providing a fun and exciting educational engineering program for 7th and 8th grade students that combines a stimulating engineering challenge with a ‘hands-on’ application to present their vision of a city of the future.”

The engineering and education communities have established many similar outreach programs that are capturing the interest of our youth. The purpose of these programs is to bring engineering, math, and problem-solving activities to our youth from kindergarten through high school and to improve the public image of engineering. Design Squad, one program targeting the public image, is a new reality, how-to television show that introduces children and families to engineering design processes and gets viewers excited about engineering! The show is produced by WGBH Boston in partnership with the sponsors of National Engineers Week. WGHB Boston also led the group that introduced the exciting “hands-on activity set,” ZOOM into Engineering (ZIE) to children from Kindergarten through 6th grade.

ZIE was developed in conjunction with National Engineers Week, ASCE, DuPont, and the WGBH television show, “ZOOM.” In 2002, ZIE was implemented in many cities throughout the United States to promote engineering and science to youth. Examples of some of the projects ZIE participants might take on are: designing a geodesic dome, developing a heat saving device to keep items warm longer, creating a survival raft, designing a solar-powered oven, building lemon-juice-powered rockets, designing an upside-down car, or building a dam. Each project has simple instructions and if completed with easy to find supplies such as straws, newspapers, sandwich bags, paper towel rolls, and other household items.

The ASCE Oregon Younger Member Forum (OYMF) expanded their youth outreach program by utilizing ZIE curriculum and the support of their local civil engineering community to promote engineering and science to the local youth through free, hands-on workshops in the Portland-Metro area. Through the ZIE program, hundreds of volunteers and over 2000 boys and girls have been exposed to hands-on activities through its 50 plus events. The local and national ZIE programs continue to thrive in schools, after-school programs, and various youth organizations throughout the United States.

National engineering statistics suggest that a reduced number of engineering graduates is being realized throughout the nation. Does this mean that we are not providing opportunities to our youth? No. Many individuals and organizations are pushing the boundaries to provide engineering outreach to our youth. For instance, the Being Enthusiastic About Math and Science (BEAMS) program (a 5th and 6th grade outreach program established in 1991) provides students with hands-on math and science activities, conducts tours of a lab, and introduces career role models at the U.S. Department of Energy's Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Virginia. Students that experience BEAMS have a better understanding of the importance of math and science, realize that women can be scientists, and have a higher interest in science courses.

National Engineers Week, WGBH, local engineering chapters and organizations, and education-oriented engineers are exposing more of our youth to engineering than ever before. These outreach efforts combined with a continuing effort to present engineering as “cool” and additional support from parents, our youth will continue to be exposed to and learn about engineering, which will give them the ability to make an informed decision about choosing a career in engineering!

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