Thursday, September 11, 2008

Science and Technology Education not Dead Yet

I was using an old layout of PADT's "the Focus" to start the next issue and I went to delete an editorial we had in there, when I thought it might not be a bad thing to put in this blog. If you missed it in Issue 65 of the Focus, then here it is again for your reading pleasure:

We didn’t have time to come up with a good Awesome APDL so we needed something to fill this space. Then I remembered some thoughts I had last weekend and figured “hey, blathering out your opinion fills spaces just as well as pictures from Doug’s last vacations.”

It is sort of popular these days to spout off about how horrible our education system is and how “kids today just can’t cut it.” or to quote statistics on how many engineers are being created in this country or that. And I’ve taken part in some of that grumbling. But last weekend I was asked to be a judge in an engineering competition for elementary through college students called the “National Underwater Robotics Competition” or NURC. In this competition teams build their own Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV’s) and use them to accomplish a “mission” that usually involves picking stuff up and hitting switches in a dark pool.
What amazed me is how innovative, creative and dedicated these kids were. The participants came from almost every ethnic and economic group you can find in this country, and they all showed the same “Yankee ingenuity” that grumpy old people like to say is dead and gone. I have to admit that I had tears welling up in a couple of oral presentations because I was so proud of these kids.
My favorite was a 7th grader who said “When we started, all we had was a box of parts and we didn’t even know what the word solder meant. When we were done we knew how electricity works, how motors work and Jimmie, he is an expert at soldering now”

At the end of each presentation the judges try to ask if they students are interested in going into science, math or engineering. Almost every student raised their hand to say yes. One said, another eye welling moment, something similar to “before I did this project, I didn’t think I could be anything like an engineer, but now I now I now I have what it takes and I can be the first person in may family to go to college”

Is there room for improvement in the US’s education system? Yes. Do we need to find a way to encourage our best and brightest to go into technology careers? Yes. Is the future bleak and hopeless? No, not if the high school and college kids who showed up with their hand made ROV’s are any indication.

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1 comment:

Jeff Strain said...

One of the most fulfilling things I've done in my career is judge at an international science fair. I saw some pretty amazing stuff from kids all around the world. I hope to participate in similar activities in the future.