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  • 1.  How to Balance Realism and Idealism in Engineering Outreach

    Posted 08-01-2019 11:29 AM
    ​I enjoy talking to students about careers in civil engineering and the variety of specialties available to study. I think there is something for everyone in STEM. As with any career, however, there is a combination of exciting and routine responsibilities. 

    Mundane tasks are very necessary but may not be as thrilling or appealing in a presentation. (I don't want to "scare" a student away!)  Even so, I shoot for openness about the profession.  I look to strike a balance between piquing students' interest in engineering through fun and idealistic activities and being upfront about the practical efforts required to realize a project.

    Can you please share ways in which you have balanced realism and idealism in your outreach efforts with students?  How early do you introduce the more routine aspects of engineering to students? 

    I appreciate your thoughts on this. Thank you.

    Jameelah Ingram, P.E., M.ASCE
    Washington, D.C.

  • 2.  RE: How to Balance Realism and Idealism in Engineering Outreach

    Posted 08-05-2019 05:59 PM
    Edited by Tirza Austin 08-05-2019 05:59 PM
    Hi Jameelah!
    Without any useful input, I'd like to commend your involvement in outreach!
    I think, at least with young kids (elementary school), the most important part is to put engineering on their map, so going heavy on romanticism is ok. Both of my parents (and pretty much everyone else in the Soviet Union..) being engineers, I remember thinking that engineering was the most boring job in the world as a kid. Obviously, I've reconsidered since. Engineering got a boost for my 5 and 8 year old after my mom helped them draw a rocket ship in Inventor. I am afraid, it still can't quite compete with being a 'pop star'.  For middle and high school students, the portrayal should be more honest, although I am not sure what's the best format to present these routine tasks. After all, a good number of people end up choosing a career in accounting without any outreach that I am aware of :) I've seeing robotics clubs  give good practical skills to older children that can be used throughout their career.

    Natalya Sokolovskaya P.E.,M.ASCE
    Wynnewood PA

  • 3.  RE: How to Balance Realism and Idealism in Engineering Outreach

    Posted 08-06-2019 10:27 AM
    Thank you Natalya! This is definitely useful.  The point mentioned about just putting engineering on their map resonated with me the most.  Exposure is the most important thing! Also, thanks for sharing your story about your family and their experience with the Inventor program. I'll have to check this out.

    Jameelah Ingram P.E.,M.ASCE
    Washington DC

  • 4.  RE: How to Balance Realism and Idealism in Engineering Outreach

    Posted 08-06-2019 08:14 AM
    Edited by Chad Morrison 08-06-2019 08:25 AM
    Mundane tasks are often tedious.  There is a negative connotation to that word.  But consider that some may find tedious work to be relaxing, fulfilling, and creative.  Little kids enjoy coloring.  Most kids enjoy legos (following instructions and building).  Big kids enjoy video games (with levels that often need repeating).  Remember when we could not save games on Nintendo?!  I am still trying to build the perfect city in SimCity!  Someday, I will get there!

    If you present the work as necessary, challenging, and fruitful, kids will get that.  Kids who enjoy independent, quiet work may find engineering to be a very appealing profession.  There is much talk on this board of improving communication skills among engineers, which is needed.  However, the amount of energy spent on engaging with people is far less than that of being a teacher, doctor, or lawyer.  It is also important to showcase the diversity of the profession where there is an opportunity for introverts to find tranquility in design work and extroverts to find adventure in the field.

    If I only knew that I could grow up to be a professional video game player and be on TV...

    Chad Morrison P.E.,M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Greenville RI
    (401)231-4870 EXT 2207

  • 5.  RE: How to Balance Realism and Idealism in Engineering Outreach

    Posted 08-06-2019 10:27 AM
    Hello Chad, I really appreciate the advice and humor in your reply! This helps me to think about "mundane" tasks from a different perspective.  Thanks! They can be tedious yet tranquil. When I think about it, I have had conversations with engineers who love creating rebar schedules and others who would rather be on an inspection. The next time I'm out and about in a classroom, I'll showcase the diversity in the profession for different personality types.

    Jameelah Ingram P.E.,M.ASCE
    Washington DC

  • 6.  RE: How to Balance Realism and Idealism in Engineering Outreach

    Posted 08-06-2019 04:10 PM
    Jameelah, great topic!  I mentor with a local high school and meet monthly with a group of kids interested in STEM fields and face this struggle often.  Chad makes a lot of great points.  Addressing the "mundane" elements of the job as tranquil is something I'd never considered.

    Like Natalya said I think with younger age groups (roughly grades K-6) is good to romanticize the profession.  Show them how diverse, fun, cool, and exciting that it can be.  Get them interested in STEM and make them aware of engineering.  That's always my goal for young children, when I talk about what I do.  If we see a project I worked on, I won't getting into the details, but just point out that I worked on it!  That's probably my favorite thing about Civil Engineering, a lot of what we work on is tangible and big.  Easy for a child to look at understand simply that it exists.

    With middle school aged kids (roughly grades 6-9) I try to hone that interest in STEM to engineering and introduce them to Civil Engineering.  When I talk about projects I still keep it more general.  I focus on stuff they can see and try to tie in concepts they're learning  If it's a small group I try to find things they're interested in and relate them to Civil Engineering.  I'll get more into what my day to day life is like, but present it positively.  

    With high school aged kids (roughly grades 9-12) I try to get them interested in specific areas of Civil Engineering.  For the kids I work with they're already interested in STEM, fortunately.  If they're interested in something else, you can't make them change their mind.  I make it clear I'm passionate about what I do and would love to tell them more if they're interested.  Which I run into a fair amount and where I struggle. Is there a better approach that's worked for anyone? 

    I'm very honest with high school kids.  While I try to stay positive, I find they're more responsive to being treated as equals. I don't drone on about things I don't like about my job, but I'm honest about it.  It's frustrating when projects are determined by funding rather than doing what is best or right.  It's tough working long hours before a submittal.  But when you get to see a project come together and be physically built, that's why I love this career over similar professions.

    James Smith P.E.,M.ASCE
    Design Engineer
    Grand Rapids MI

  • 7.  RE: How to Balance Realism and Idealism in Engineering Outreach

    Posted 08-08-2019 08:28 AM
    There are many specialties in Civil Engineering, not all of which might be viewed as cool as others. Being a structural engineer working on groundbreaking buildings across the world can be impressive but all large projects need many people working as part of the team. Some engineer is going to work only on designing connections while others get to do the modeling of loads. Wastewater engineering is mostly about maintaining current sewer systems and doesn't seem to be on the top of the list for a career choice but there are plenty of jobs designing sewer relays.

    Public works engineering projects rebuilding infrastructure to take advantage of new technology is pretty exciting and has given me pride. Nowadays, I don't do design or project management but my role is no less important as a manager of a section of drafting techs. I have the opportunity to revise how we do things and how we can provide our work product more efficiently. Streamlining operations and record-keeping is actually pretty fun although this is more Industrial Engineering than Civil Engineering. The take-away is that every small or large task in engineering is about problem solving. It is especially fun to solve problems with the simplest of tools and as efficiently as possible with the least possible number of steps.

    Yance Marti P.E.,M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer IV
    City of Milwaukee
    Milwaukee WI