Engineers wanted to answer students' burning questions
30 July 2014
“What is the most useless thing you have designed?”, “Is it possible to repair people through engineering?” and “Just what is an engineer?”
At 13 years old, would you have known how to describe an engineer? If you were to answer the question today, is there one definition you could give?
For two weeks this November, engineers from all over Ireland will answer the big questions in engineering, take part in live chats and compete for student votes. Ten engineers are needed to take part; two will be crowned champions, winning €500 to spend on further engagement.
I’m an Engineer, Get me out of here is an online engagement event that gets engineers talking to school students. They will take part in frantic online live chats and compete for the students’ votes – as at the end of the two weeks, one engineer will be crowned the winner and get €500 to spend on further public engagement. Members of Engineers Ireland can also earn up to one day’s CPD by taking part.
“If you get any joy from explaining the world or think you might have some aptitude for it, then don’t hesitate to apply,” said Matt Maddock, an engineer at Diamond Light Source who took part in the UK event. “For the sake of a couple of weeks with a little extra workload, the experience is amazing.
“Finding out what the students care about, what they’re concerned with and how they’ve a genuine interest in the world around them is exhilarating. It’s not nearly as daunting, tiring, troublesome or time-consuming as you might fear. All my hopes for the competition were exceeded massively. Everything happens on the web, so you can join in without leaving your desk. But the joys of the web by no means end there,” he added.
HONING COMMUNICATIONS SKILLS
Engineers can develop their communication skills and find out what young people think of engineering; in doing so, many are given the chance to step back from their everyday duties and remember just what it is about engineering that sparked their imaginations in the first place. For many, it is not just a way to inspire young people, but a refresher course in engineering itself.
Zoe George took part in the Food Zone in the UK’s June event. “I had no idea what I was getting myself in for coming into the competition, but I quickly realised that I was becoming even more passionate about engineering after speaking to the students,” she said.
The event is an opportunity to find out what the public really thinks about engineers and engineering – to find the misconceptions and the areas that are least understood. It is an opportunity for engineers to learn how to talk about their work to a non-specialist audience. They hit the ground running learning how to grab—and importantly, keep—the attention of a school student who may have never considered engineering as a possible career path.
With the whole competition taking place online, many engineers are given the confidence to take their first step into public engagement. Initially shielded by the vague anonymity of the web, they are more comfortable answering the students’ questions more honestly, removing the hesitation to admit, “I don’t know.”
After taking part in a past event in the UK, one engineer commented, “In comparison to other STEM [science, technology, engineering and maths] events, it was a lot less hassle. Being online meant it was easier to participate and gave everyone a chance to ask the questions they wanted.”
WHY WOULD STUDENTS WANT TO ASK ME QUESTIONS?
The boundaries of traditional engineering have been stretched by new industries and disciplines; stretched in many ways beyond the understanding of the public, not least school students. There is a rapidly increasing need for a diverse group of engineers to help students better understand the role of engineering, how it relates to their studies in maths, science and design lessons, and importantly how engineering affects their daily lives.
Engineers are the best placed to talk about their profession. I’m an Engineer gives them the opportunity to engage directly with school students and really bring engineering to life. It helps students to understand that an engineer is much more than a bloke with a spanner and dirty fingernails.
The web-based event allows even the quietest students in class to hold their own with the most boisterous. It gives them the confidence to ask the so called ‘stupid questions’, the questions they might be expected to know the answers to and the questions they would not dare ask out loud in a classroom.
WHAT KINDS OF ENGINEERS ARE NEEDED?
The event depends on engineers from all disciplines to apply to take part, and that is just what we are looking for. Students see engineers from a whole range of backgrounds and learn that an engineer is no single type of person – that anyone can be an engineer.
The event is split into themed zones, each with five engineers and around 350 school students. With broader zone themes, looking at Health, Cities or Detection, for example, students are able to learn how different engineers come together to work on different projects; breaking the segmented view of engineering as either mechanical or civil.
I’m an Engineer in Ireland is funded in part by Science Foundation Ireland. The other part — the mystery part—will be crowdfunded. Crowdfunding the event allows us to do something very special; there is a competition within a competition to find out the two zones we are going to run this November.
Launching mid-August; anyone with an interest in the project will be able to contribute anything from €1 to €1,500 or more, with different rewards for different levels of funding. Keep an eye on FundIt.ie for the I’m a Scientist and I’m an Engineer projects.
I’m an Engineer is running for the first time in Ireland from 10–21 November 2014 for engineers from all disciplines. If you have some aptitude for explaining the world, apply to take part at imanengineer.ie/engineers-apply/.http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2014/07/30/engineers-wanted-answer-students-burning-questions/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/New-Picture5-1024x717.pnghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/New-Picture5-300x300.pngNewseducation,STEM