Who are tomorrow's engineers? I'd argue that every single student in your classroom could be an engineer.
Typically, if you ask someone what an 'engineer' is they will reply with one or more of the following descriptors: introverted, nerdy, clever, fixes things, problem solver, dirty, mechanic, overalls, hard hat. And they work on cars, planes, trains and bridges.
If you asked me, I would use the following words: mountain biker, skier, horse rider, musician, artist, logical, problem solver, creative, introvert, extrovert, and friend. And I'd suggest they work on prosthetic limbs, film sets, in recording studios, designing snowboards and theme park rides… the list goes on.
My point is that none of my engineering colleagues fit under any particular description. They are all unique personalities with unique interests. I recently came across some interesting feedback from people I spoke to both within my company and externally. There were some recurring themes: lack of awareness of what an engineer was during their education, poor careers advice and often 'negative' feedback that put them off following a particular path. For example, "I was told I was too quiet to be a successful engineer".
So, once again, I'd argue that every single student in your classroom could be an engineer. However, if you are teaching primary school students I'd recommend using the word 'inventor' rather than 'engineer' as, to be blunt, it sounds more fun!
"Encourage your students to be curious, to take things apart, to query the everyday and to be themselves. Because one day they will be designing the world for the next generation of engineers to live in."
The student who doesn't like to speak up in class; are they disengaged and daydreaming or are they actually observing their classmates and learning from what they see? Could they be an animation engineer when they are older, replicating human behaviours in animated characters?
The student who can't sit still and is boisterous in class, perhaps they are an ideas generator but are not so keen on the detail in a task? What a great engineering entrepreneur they might make, following in the footsteps of people like Sir Richard Branson and Sir James Dyson.
What can you do to nurture all these different strengths and personalities under the engineer/inventor banner? How about an activity that involves problem-solving, creativity, role-playing and supporting tasks.
A great activity I've been involved in is a day of 'inventing' where teams of students come up with a pop-up business idea to solve an everyday problem. They then need to come up with a business name, unique selling point, selling price, manufacturing strategy and a marketing pitch before presenting their ideas back to the group in the afternoon. This means your creative, analytical, leadership, finance, extrovert and support personalities all get a role to play.
And do you know what, this is exactly what happens in my engineering world today. All of these qualities are apparent in the teams I work in, and never all in one person.
So encourage your students to be curious, to take things apart, to query the every day and to be themselves. Because one day they will be designing the world for the next generation of engineers to live in. Isn't that an exciting thought?!
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About the author
Holly Davies is the Measurement Technical Specialist in Rolls-Royce and is responsible for ensuring their measurement systems are capable and bringing new technology into production. Engineering is a rewarding and exciting place to work, it’s also a very broad industry with a variety of opportunities. Holly is working to challenge the stereotypes of what engineering is so we attract the right set of skills to design and build our future.