Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Curmudgeon lobbies for more women engineers

Cross-posting today from The Blog of Days because this is an issue near and dear to my heart. We have lots of women who are doctors and lawyers (my late father used to speculate that the law would become a 'pink collar ghetto') -- but one profession still seems largely closed to women. Not entirely, of course, and certainly not officially. But we can -- we should -- do better.

Thursday, February 21 will be Introduce A Girl To Engineering Day.

Image obtained from Whiting School of Engineering
of John Hopkins University.
We need more engineers in the United States, period. Too many of 'our' American engineering graduates are taking their talents back home to India or China, where new engineers are also being produced in carload lots. If America is to compete in a global economy, we need all the engineers we can develop -- and, historically, in encouraging careers in engineering, we've ignored half our population. This must stop.

How can you help?

If you have daughters or granddaughters, obviously, encourage them to think about careers in engineering. But 'encouragement' is not enough.

Engineering is a practical discipline, and there are practical steps that parents can take to help make their child ready for a possible engineering career: First, every child should finish the first year course in algebra before graduating from grammar school. Completion of Algebra I in 8th grade puts a child on the road to possibly take introductory calculus before finishing high school. It is the small pool of kids who arrive on campus with AP Calculus credit from whom the majority of tomorrow's engineers will come. We've got to make that pool bigger -- and more co-ed. If your junior high does not demand Algebra I from at least your school's best and brightest, you should demand that your school raise its expectations.

One of the little sayings in the Sidebar of this blog is "Ve grow too soon old, und too late schmart." That's supposed to be a rendering of German dialect; it's something my father used to say. Not that he was German, mind you, but he grew up in a neighborhood that had many Germans and Poles and he picked up all sorts of dialects.

It is a saying that is particularly true when it comes to parenting. We learn so much as parents -- and usually too late for it to benefit our kids. But you younger parents can profit by my experience, especially on this Algebra I issue.

I didn't have Algebra I in junior high -- but I was allowed to double up in high school by taking both Algebra II and Geometry in my sophomore year. None of my kids were permitted that option. Oldest Son went to a college that made calculus a required freshman course; all my other kids managed to avoid calculus entirely. Thus, although he didn't become an engineer, Oldest Son is the only one of my five who's gone into any sort of technical career -- he's a business consultant who writes computer code. So you have to lobby for introductory algebra in junior high in order to put kids on the Calculus track. Or hope your kid goes to Notre Dame.

Not every kid can handle calculus, of course. I barely did. Not every kid can grow up, therefore, to be an engineer. Not every kid can grow up to play professional sports, either. But we encourage our kids to try out for teams so they can explore their athletic potential. We should provide the same encouragement for our kids when it comes to challenging fields of study.

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