Posted by: Chris | February 20, 2011

Diversity and Engineering Week… A Bit of Rambling

Last week I decided to visit my daughter’s high school to check out the food options that were being offered on the last day of “Diversity Week.”  The various student groups were selling food to help finance their activities and I wanted to try it out!  I got there at about the time lunch was supposed to start, but it turned out that was delayed due to the assembly, which highlighted the various groups and clubs in the school (I heard some, but did not go in since it was ending).

So I sat in the cafeteria/commons area trying to read a book, but was distracted by the activity around me.  There was the table of PTSA moms of seniors who were going sell tickets for the prom and graduation parties, then there were the pair of kids who were signing (the school has a deaf ed program), plus the various groups setting up for food.

The Black Student Union (BSU) set up opposite of La Raza.  One young man with a BSU shirt helped with the La Raza table, which made me wonder why the name for the Hispanic group was “The Race” and not the plural “Las Razas.”  The group working on that table spanned the diversity that is seen in Mexico, Central and South America (from Mayan descendants, to the men from the West Indies brought over to build the Panama Canal, and the many immigrants from Europe and Asia to the continents over the last two centuries, but that is a subject for another posting).

The ASL (American Sign Language) club set up a table selling cookies shaped like the hand “love” sign.  The Latin Club was selling gelato (one young man had a “Varsity Latin” sweatshirt that puzzled me, daughter told me the Latin students did a mock gladiator battle during the assembly).  Then there was the table for the African student group (which had completely different food from the BSU), plus there were the tables for the Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, South East Asian, East Asian and some other clubs.  When they were finished I got overwhelmed by the variety, and mobs of teenagers.  So I left and even forgot to collect some recipes from around the world that were posted on the wall.

My daughter said that it was successful for her club, the East Asian Club (did I mention that each club was itself diverse, even the BSU group had very blond members).  They made a profit on their first of the three days of selling food.  They don’t know what to spend it on, since the group are mostly friends who like to hang out together with a common interest in Japan, Korea and China.

I know all is not sunshine and flowers, there are conflicts in the large urban high school.  But there is encouragement that there are students willing learn a second language, and experience different cultures.

During the same time I listened to the “Are We Alone” episode on “Building a Better Mousetrap.”  There was an interview with the inventor of the Super Soaker, Lonnie Johnson.  He was a NASA engineer, and spoke about promoting the scientific and engineering achievements of black engineers.

This got me thinking that one thing that could use more diversity is engineering.  It is one of the last bastions of the “male and pale” professions.  And, by a serendipitous coincidence National Engineers Week starts today.   It is time to expose your kids to engineering!

I encourage you to find out if a nearby university is having an engineering open house.  They often happen in the spring, and are great ways to get elementary aged kids interested in science and technology.  There are so many, and just by Googling “engineering open house” I found some starting next month in Illinois and North Carolina, with more in the next few months in California, Kansas and elsewhere.  If the closest engineering open house is once every two years or in the fall, put it on your calendar so you don’t miss it.

The following are other resources (if I miss anything geared to kids, just put it in the comments!):

Your local library! With this month being Black History Month there are displays on books that include notable inventors and scientists.  Look around for other books on interesting scientists, doctors and engineers, like The Frog Scientist.

NOVA’s The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

Discover Engineering

The National Society of Black Engineers

The Society of Women Engineers

MESA USA

American Society of Civil Engineers

American Society of Mechanical Engineers

Junior Engineering Technical Society (high school age)

Organizations only (have teacher resources mostly):

The National Society of Hispanic Engineers

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Society of Automotive Engineers

National Society of Professional Engineers

And a commercial store of resources:  The Engineering Education Service Center, with useful blog posts.

Edit to add: A good list of resources from GeekDad at Wired: Hug an Engineer – It’s National Engineers Week

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Responses

  1. Nice post. I had no idea that engineers had a week dedicated to them.

  2. Thank you. It usually involves outreach, at least when I was more active. I have spent a few weekends at a table in a mall explaining engineering, but that was in the era before kids.

    I don’t think this needs to be in the main article, as it does not deal with educational outreach, but there is a new group blog for engineering:
    http://engineerblogs.org/

  3. Thanks for posting about National Engineers Week. I always look forward to volunteering at my college. The past years we’ve had a trebuchet competition for high schoolers and the prof who runs it likes having me as a ref, because it shows the kids that even women can be engineers.

    I know there are several schools that offer programs for the girl scouts that always have a waiting list of troops.

  4. Thanks, Jennifer. You reminded me that our local SWE chapter does have a relationship with the local Girl Scouts program. So I found this to add:
    http://www.girlscouts.org/program/program_opportunities/science/


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