Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Have a nephew? Save the world. (Works for sons, daughters, grandkids, etc)

I know that as soon as I get the point, you'll think me horribly biased and prejudiced. However, I believe I have a point (if I didn't I probably wouldn't be writing... probably). Okay, the long and short of it is that I believe that a world with more engineers is a better world. Why are engineers so highly paid? There are two primary reasons- because the work they do is generally very valuable, and also because there just aren't that many of them. Not a lot of young people want to be engineers, and even fewer of those follow through with their ambitions. I'm not just making this up- engineering schools across the US have noted a disturbing trend in the last decade towards both declining enrollment and failure to graduate (either from dropping out or switching majors). This isn't just a pet problem with one sector of the world which will recover in time, it's a real issue that hasn't yet reached the limelight.

Very often you'll hear about something being so essential that the world can't exist without it. This is frequently employed to lend creedence to some argument or add awe to something. You'll hear about how without sunlight, the world couldn't possibly exist, or without the nitrogen cycle, plants could never go, or "Without Trucks- America Stops". Whatever it is, it's always essential. The implication here is that whatever is being argued for is the most important thing... IN THE WORLD. This happens so much that I believe that the American populace is becoming immune to being told that something is important. I say this because I don't want you, my reader, to underestimate the gravitas of this issue. I don't argue that this is the most important issue in the world- it's obviously not- but it can be corrected relatively easily and does have a significant impact on the world.

First, why is engineering important? The first and most obvious thing is what engineering creates. If you look back at our world as it was in the Bible times, you can note a lot of differences. It wouldn't be hard to argue that things are better now than they were then. People live longer, in greater comfort, with more leisure time and less oppression and greater freedom. All these improvements can be linked to advances in some field- civics, art, philosophy, medicine, politics... and engineering. I won't pull the typical 'look around the room, now notice that everything you saw was made by an engineer' tactic because that's cliché. (But it's true) We can thank engineering for almost all of our modern conveniences. More importantly, though, we can thank engineering for most of the significant advances that actually make a difference in the world- modern sanitation leads to greatly reduced disease and thus fewer people dying early deaths. The invention of the printing press made the printed word, and thus education and knowledge (not to mention God's word) available to the masses. The textile mill means that your mom didn't have to stay up late with an oil-lamp crocheting your underwear. All of these things- significant and insignificant, would still be problems in the world if someone didn't employ the design process to solve a problem.

My proposition for you is this- if there are young people in your life, give them two things: a curiosity about how things work and a strong desire to make the world better. The former will give them the inclination to design better things, and the former will motivate them to put those inclinations to a meaningful use (the world needs appropriate technology more than it needs better iPhones). I need to leave the better-world part up to you, as a single 23-year old non-father, I have no idea how to make kids into better people. When it comes to curiousity about how things work... now that's something I'm familiar with.

The best way that I know of to foster curiosity (and the creativity that will follow) is to explore the world's wonders with your son/daughter/nephew/niece/grandkids. God made an amazing world and offers endless entertainment for those who endeavor to explore it. Don't force any young person to fit a mold- but make the mold available to them if they want to crawl into it. One reason, perhaps, that engineering has been less popular is that it's viewed as an honorable but eccentric trade. The remedy to this, probably, is to get a life-size cardboard cutout of Werner VonBraun to put in his/her room and venerate him as a hero at every family meal.

Provide resources for kiddo to explore. When I was a kid, we had a cutaway book which showed cutaway views of different things like jumbo jets, oceanliners, and tanks. Even though I'd looked at each of the diagrams already, I loved to look at them all to see how everything fit together and wonder how it all worked.  LEGOs are great, but get them the ones where they actually build stuff instead of just assemble their own figurines. Tinkertoys, Lincoln Logs, K'nex, pencil and paper, aluminum and a bandsaw, whatever. Stuff like this is great:

Check out the whole site- it's great.

Anything to get kiddo's brain stimulated in a constructive and creative way (preferably towards making something practical and useful) is good. There's more to being an engineer than just analysis and computation- get kiddo familiar with a ratchet and box-end wrench as well.

Shucks, I ran out of creative juice. Turn all the kids you know into engineers. Fin.


Megan Gilmore said...

OH Ned! Curiosity and creativity do not automatically lead to engineering my friend. However, I'm glad that you are passionate about your field and want to inspire others to do it. (You do realize that the creation of such things as the printing press required a bit more collaboration than one engineer sitting down and say "Would this be cool? How does it work? Oh I see. I think I'll build it!" :)
As the body of Christ, each person has his/her own giftedness that should work with another's. The engineer sitting in a textile mill by himself is of no use to the world without the architects, entrepreneurs, businessmen, consumers, and laborers that make his work influential. As an engineer, I'm sure you value the attributes of God as an intentional and unique designer, so I'm sure I'm just preaching to the choir. But my son's curiosity and creativity will be nurtured and the world will be impacted whether he be an engineer, an artist, a scholar, a psychiatrist or none-of-the-above.
It is the creativity, curiosity, loving God, and living according to his Word that will make a difference in my son and in his world, not the profession he chooses.

Ned Funnell said...

A curiosity about how things work and creativity don't always lead to engineering, but they are two an engineer's most valuable traits. I concur about the need for many different minds contributing to a project, and that's another reason why we need more! Again, I would never advocate forcing an individual into a mold. God has a plan for Elliot and I wouldn't want anyone or anything to detract from his progress in that way. However, God does offer us choices (I believe) that can determine where we go. I believe that giving someone the traits that would enable them to flourish as an engineer, if God opened such a door and they chose to do so, would be doing a favor both for them and the world.

DEN said...

A caller to a talk show remarked, "Engineers create all the wealth in the world because they design products, the means of transporting them and the computers that keep track of everything."
True, I thought, but it takes an English Major to write the user manual.