Engineering is cool?

Nathan  Kahl Posted on March 22, 2011 by Nathan Kahl

Engineering is NOT cool. At least, you’ll never hear me tell my daughter it is. What is cool? Parkour? Tosh.O? Lady Gaga? Really, from a teenager’s perspective, I have no idea. 

I have a daughter who bucked the family genetic tradition of having a meager academic grasp of STEM subjects, and is quite comfortable with math and science. As she and I navigated the high school years, I did my parenting duty of nudging her toward career fields that would take advantage of her abilities (and please don’t tell the good folks here at NAE that medicine was my first choice).  I assumed that she would not seriously consider engineering, because I work so closely with it.

Turns out, the drumbeat of engineering in the background of her life – my talking about interesting projects at work or fascinating people that I’d met – rubbed off. I was delighted when she came home from a college fair and, having talked to a representative from Georgia Tech, asked me, “What’s biomedical engineering?”

In my feverish excitement to solidify her interest, I could have tried to close the deal by selling her on engineering using words adults think teenagers use. I could have referred to engineering as a really “cool” profession. But as we say on page 44 of our CTC report, using this word when marketing to teens is a death knell. My daughter knows I don’t know cool.

Instead, I told her about some of the amazing innovations created by engineers. I told her that Dean Kamen, who created the Segway (a device I know she loves), actually has had a bigger societal impact with his medical innovations. We discussed how engineers change the world, how they help people, and how they solve the grand challenges facing society. Helped by the messages I’ve learned from working on this project, I spoke in words that we are pretty confident resonate with teenagers when discussing their future.

Here’s her elevator speech explaining why she’s considering BME: “I realized I could combine my love of biology with the creativity of engineering to help people be healthier.” It doesn’t get much simpler or compelling than that.

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