Sponsored by PPI. An interview with Dolores Landeck, Family Day volunteer and Director of Public Affairs at the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers.
Q. What is Family Day and why is it important to Engineers Week?
A. Discover Engineering Family Day is a day of pure fun and wonderment at the National Building Museum. It’s a day when children can expand their understanding of the world around them by learning some of its working principles—engineering principles—and putting them to work in simple, age-related activities. The activities are untimed and non-competitive, so it’s a very positive experience. The emphasis is on discovery, not achievement. It’s an important event in Engineers Week because it brings children, parents, and educators face-to-face with real, live engineers. It puts engineer role models, and engineering, within the reach of tomorrow’s workforce.
Q. What advice would you give to young people pursuing a career in engineering?
A. Enjoy your math and science classes; don’t get discouraged by bumps in the road. Seek help and mentorship when you need it, because there are a lot of aspiring mentors within the engineering community. And get out of your comfort zone: Explore and learn as much as you can about our universe and its inhabitants because engineering can make a difference for every living creature, in every corner of the world. You can be that difference, but only if you know where to apply your talents.
Q. What inspired you to volunteer for Family Day?
A. I love coming to Family Day each year because the energy it generates is exhilarating. I can turn in any direction and see faces lit with the joy that comes from discovery, from being creative, from being introduced to new ideas.
Q. How can families get more involved in exploring engineering with their children?
A. I have an engineer friend who signs his emails with a quote, “Doctors save lives one at a time; engineers save them by the thousands.” That recognition—of the immense value of engineering—is an important first step for every mom and dad that will bubble up as enthusiasm and outperform any parental sales pitch. Then just keep your eyes and ears open for events and opportunities that will appeal to your family’s preferences. There are so many resources available—at museums across the country, through civic organizations, online through groups like DiscoverE.org. Ask about local engineering-society chapters: Engineers love to share what they know and are usually eager to conduct outreach activities with schools and youth groups.
Q. What is your favorite part of Family Day?
A. My favorite part of Family Day might be when the doors first open and families start to fill the room, with fresh smiles and anticipation. Or maybe it’s the peak of the day, when a happy cacophony fills the room, punctuated by squeals and giggles. Or maybe it’s watching the exhausted hangers-on who don’t want to leave because there’s just one more—“Pleeeese, mommmmm”—booth to visit. Family Day is a great event from start to finish.
Q. What kind of change would you like to see in future engineering communities?
A. I’d like to see continued growth in support of women and minorities in engineering, with the goal of developing a workforce that demographically reflects the general population. We all bring unique perspectives to problem solving, so it’s important to keep a variety of voices among our engineering-problem solvers. We’ve made some progress in recruitment, but clearly there’s room for improvement. Moreover, we have to engage more deeply in strategies aimed at keeping women and minorities in the workforce once they’ve arrived.
Q. Why is introducing youth to engineering so important?
A. It’s not just about promoting careers in engineering, although that is very important. The products of engineering and technology are all around us. If we wish our children to be informed citizens, capable of making sound decisions that impact their lives and livelihoods, their families, and their communities, we need to equip them with a measure of fluency in science and engineering. Today’s youth have no problem getting the hang of new devices. Let’s leverage that fearlessness to groom the next generation with the understanding and confidence they’ll need to successfully navigate their encounters with the engineered world.
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