Engineering: The Job that Builds the Future

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So you want to be the next generation engineer?  What steps should you take?  Why is it important to be an engineer?  These are all questions I wanted to answer, so I recently met with a young engineer named Jessica Hauss.  

Jessica had a lifelong dream of becoming an engineer that came true. Currently, she is growing heart and bone cells and sending them into space to research the effects of microgravity on these cells. Jessica was instrumental in helping me figure out what a career in engineering entails and perhaps, by sharing her wisdom, I can shed some light on what one can do to become an engineer.   

I met Jessica recently, and right away her job fascinated me. I decided to ask her a few questions about her career and see if she can give me some advice about how to get into a career field just an interesting as hers.  Here is what I learned.

Ms. Hauss was first immersed into the engineering community at a NASA high school internship in Maryland and that “helped solidify that [she] wanted to work for NASA”.  Like most children, Jessica was always creative and curious. She had a lifelong fascination with space and space science. While in middle school, Jessica wanted to get an internship at NASA, so she focused her studies in school to be able to apply for a high school internship there. Her efforts paid off: not only did she get into the internship program as a high schooler, she loved it so much there that she made it her career choice.

After high school, she went to college, still intent on being an engineer.  According to Jessica, “I had finished my undergraduate degree in Physics & Astronomy and went to a job fair where NASA was hiring engineers.  NASA took a chance on me and offered me a job and then offered me a chance to get my Masters Degree in Systems Engineering, so I took it and I really enjoyed it.” Currently, Ms. Hauss works at NASA in Mountain View, CA as assistant engineer on the bioculture system.  The bioculture system is a “space biological science incubator for use on the International Space Station (ISS), with the capability of transporting active and stored experiments to the ISS  (NASA).”

So what does it mean to be an Engineer?  Engineering “is the application of scientific knowledge to solving problems in the real world.”  Engineering is an amazing career choice: interesting, fun and well paying.  Unfortunately, many kids and adults today have an outdated view about it.  Parents often think it is jobs like mechanics and plumbers, not the software engineers and rocket engineers in Silicon Valley or Boston.  And kids often think of it as boring math and science or they don’t know what engineers accomplish. In reality, engineering is exciting!  Some examples of current era engineers include space, civil, computer, software, bio and marine engineers. These people design buildings, create systems, work on new technologies, solve problems, modify life forms, and build robots. They are Elon Musk, Eric Schmidt, Bill Gates, and Steve Wozniak.   

As demand for bioengineering, space research, or high quality tech devices increase, companies are having trouble keeping up.   Engineers are important because, as Jessica states, “they [can] creatively solve problems.” Companies need new ideas and devices on the market, but, in many cases, they are missing the young talent.  People like Jessica are on the leading edge of a new wave of young talent that have grown up in the technology age, but even with all the technology around, getting children into engineering is difficult, so I asked Jessica how to encourage the next generation.

One of the easier methods to get kids motivated in engineering is encouraging them to take things apart.  Most people go through life using products without understanding why they work.  By taking things apart, whether it’s a computer or a vacuum cleaner, kids can begin to understand how technology works and get inspired to build things themselves.

The other way to get inspired is to take a robotics course,  join a coding class, meet and interview those who currently work in the field. According to Jessica, children can also be motivated if we “show them all of the great things engineers have accomplished through engineering and challenge them to do the same.” Many classes and programs are readily available for children online and in person.   Many companies such as Lego have paired with large industrial robotics companies to create fun programs like Lego Mindstorm to inspire kids and teach them about engineering (US News). Additionally, companies offer internships not only to college students, but to outstanding middle and high schoolers.

The last step in becoming an engineer is to “study really hard and even when it’s tough, remember that [you] can’t get those engineering and science jobs without good grades,” stated  Jessica in our interview. Many schools today do not encourage hard work. Children get a trophy just for showing up. Showing up is great, but what is really important is to praise children for creative effort and hard work.  It applies to homeschoolers too.  People and colleges are becoming a lot more accepting of the homeschooling concept and, right now, homeschoolers are spearheading the technological revolution. Your new ideas, creativity, hard work and problem solving skills are needed more than ever before.  

So if you are young, creative, and love a challenge, consider an engineering career or at least look into it.  Jessica finished our interview with some words of inspiration: “If you are interested in solving problems, challenging yourself, and making the world a better place for your children, then engineering is for you!”

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