Earlier this week I had an epiphany about how I actually had an aptitude for engineering when I was younger, that helped put my path to where I am now in a different light. A couple days later, I had a continued conversation about it that change the perspective even more. And I hope to inspire some conversation after I get all my thoughts out. But while you’re reading, I want you to be thinking about your own childhood, or your kids.
My parents considered me a troublemaker, when I was a kid. But then we had a conversation about my “troublemaker-ness” and there’s a new twist on that. When it came time to do chores, I came up with extremely creative ways to avoid doing my chores. Most of the time, the creativity was more complicated and time consuming, than if I had just done what I was supposed to, but I did it my own way. For example, when I needed to put my clothes away, I hid them, or put them in my parents room, and then locked the door. By the way, the door locked from the inside…so my parents were not thrilled with that little venture. But I also got creative about my snacktime. My parents had locks on the cabinets, and I could break into them. I knew that I needed leverage so I could get up on the counter, and would stand on the open dishwasher door, or pull a stool over and climb up. I’d have my snack, and then reinflate the bag, put it back in the box and lock the cabinet. (My parents only figured it out when my brother complained that I was getting more snacks than him) And one final example, my mom was sewing me a shirt and had put it on me to check the fit. The goal had been for me to only try it on and then take it off, but something happened and she got distracted. I wanted to go play, so I grabbed a pair of scissors (because I needed help to get the shirt off) and cut it up the front so I could get out.
All of these stories have something in common, they were examples of problem solving. I mentioned before how engineering was a lot of problem solving, and here’s some examples. I created a simple machine by pulling a stool over to get into the cabinet. I found a way out of the shirt without having someone help me. At the time of all these incidents, my parents just considered me naughty and a troublemaker, but now that they can look back on it with a calm mind, they can see the engineering solutions that I came up with. It makes me laugh to think that my adventures in avoiding chores could be considered engineering, but it can!
So here’s where I want to start the conversation. How many other people had experiences like this, where they were creative and solved problems, and maybe were considered troublemakers? What if we stop shoving down that creativity and start embracing it as the unique design that it is? I realize that in the case of my getting out of the t-shirt, at the moment it happened, my mom was not going to see the engineering solution, but the fact that I ruined hours of work. I just wonder if we can capture girls and boys into engineering (and STEM) if we show a different side. Instead of the stodgy, math equation heavy curriculum we have currently, maybe education becomes about creative ways to get through the day.
What if a final exam for a class wasn’t just regurgitating a bunch of equations on a paper, but designing, or building, or finding a way through, a maze? There’s so much more to being an engineer than what we teach now, and I’m always trying to find new suggestions for how to change it. (Maybe when I have my midlife crisis I’ll become a engineering educator)
So what experiences do you have “being an engineer”? Do you have any suggestions on how to engage the other aspects of engineering to those young boys and girls that might not have considered it? Let’s talk!