Conversation Starters

Talk Shop

Most young people don’t know an engineer or even what engineers do. The following set of questions have been designed to help you lead a conversation to show them that:

  • Engineers have the technical expertise to make a difference in the world
  • Engineering touches many of their areas of interest
  • The work of engineers is more than the stereotypical picture most people have

1. Ask: What kind of impact do you want to have on the world?

You can start the brainstorming by asking some of the following questions.

  • Do you want to help people stay healthy?
  • Would you like to make it easier for people to connect?
  • Do you want to make sure people have enough to eat?
  • Are you interested in working to keep the planet healthy?
  • Would you like to help people be better prepared for natural disasters?
  • Do you want to keep people entertained?
  • How else do you want to make a difference in the world?

Share with them that engineers work in teams to design engines that emit less pollution.Engineers are at the heart of medical breakthroughs. Engineers are the creative drivers behind movie special effects and virtual reality games.

If a young person is interested in making a difference in the world, engineering is a great choice as it gives them the skills and expertise to impact thousands of lives every day.

2. Ask: What kind of things do you like to do?

If it doesn’t come up as the kids answer, suggest:

  • Using your imagination to solve problems?
  • Teaming up with other people?
  • Designing ways to make something better?
  • Organizing a group of people or process to get things done?
  • Traveling to new places?
  • Being challenged in new and interesting ways?
  • Working on big, complex projects?

These are all hallmarks of how engineers do their work.

3. Ask: Is there an area you are interested in or considering?

Make a list of all of the types of work students are thinking about. In most cases you can tie what they are interested in to a career in engineering. Here are just a few examples:


Biomedical engineers develop artificial lenses that restore sight to the blind, radiation treatments that fight cancer, or incubators that keep premature babies alive.

The Environment

Environmental engineers find ways of cleaning up our oceans, rivers, and drinking water, developing air pollution equipment, designing more effective recycling systems, or discovering safe ways to dispose of toxic waste. While chemcial engineers, materials scientists and mechanical engineers work on developing low carbon electricity generation in an effort to combat global warming.


Agricultural and biological engineers design methods of keeping harmful microorganisms out of our food supply; create innovative systems for growing fruits, vegetables, livestock and fish; or help developing countries preserve more of their harvested grain against insects and mold.

Fashion & Entertainment

Computer science engineers develop cutting-edge music software; create shopping apps that helps customers choose styles—and then recommends matching accessories, and where to buy them; or produce a digital set design program that adds virtual actors to the set and shows how all the elements interact.

Entrepreneur & Business

Engineering is a great platform on which to build a successful career in business. For example, mechanical engineers are often referred to as the general practitioners of the engineering profession, since they work in nearly every area of technology, from aerospace and automotive to computers and biotechnology. And industrial engineers organize people, places, equipment, and information, ensuring that complex and large-scale systems operate safely and efficiently.

Review the Engineering Careers section of the website to see how other engineering disciplines tie in to a student’s specific interest.

4. Ask: Who makes a good engineer?

Explain to your students that there is no one “type” of person who becomes an engineer.

Engineers . . .

  • Are creative and imaginative
  • Like collaborating with others
  • Are curious and persistent
  • Want to make a difference
  • Like solving problems or improving processes

As you go through this list, ask your students if they are surprised that “excels at math and science” was not on this list. Tell them that it is important that engineers have a solid background in math and science, but ultimately, the best engineers are people who use their communication skills, imagination, and analytical abilities to invent, design, and create things that matter.