I have recently been appointed by the Governor to the California Workface Investment Board. I would love to know what classes or experiences made you want to become an engineer. What do we need to change in our educational system to attract more students to want an engineering degree?

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Hi Pam,

This is a very good question that you have asked. I've been asked this many times on interviews and I always have given the same answer.

As a child, I used to go to the public library and read the Occupational Handbook (if this book still exists). I would look to see what careers paid the most, what was the educational level needed to achieve that particular career, at the least troubling educational route. I also honed into what subjects I was good at and what subjects needed improvement. I narrowed the field to what I thought I could do based upon my skill set. I wanted to build buildings and see them being built from the inside out. Always a great reader, my math skills needed more help. I learned that I had to put in educational work.

There was a program at my church that offered an after-school enrichment program. In this program, we, as children, were offered reading, mathematical and musical courses. All of these courses were fun, but aided in the learning process. This program was the turning point in my education. As a mathematician and engineer, I tell people that 5th grade math is the most crucial level of math to learn. In 5th grade, the fundamentals of algebra and geometry are taught. If you fail to grasp 5th grade math, chances are that you will struggle with math throughout your schooling. When having this conversation with people that struggle with math, they reflect back to 5th grade and realize it was then that their math problems reared.

Moving ahead in time, I knew what I wanted to be; however, choosing which type of engineer to become, posed a problem. On a visit to Toronto one summer (age 19) at a construction site, I saw a woman in a suit, with a clipboard, giving orders to  men construction workers. Enthralled with the powerful position, I immediately inquired on her title. I found out that she was probably a Civil or Electrical Engineer. The rest is history.

It took me awhile but, I became an electrical engineer.

To answer your second question, I believe that students would want to become engineers if engineering work (along with the many facets of engineering) was thoroughly explained and demonstrated.  For example, I didn't know much about lawyers and the legal system until I attended college and met a young lady whose focus was to become a lawyer. Today, she is presently an EEOC hearing judge in Louisiana.

Our school systems have taken basic electives such as, shop and home ec. out of the curriculum. These absences have left our children not knowing how to use their hands to design or cook anything. Courses like shop,and home ec, are what kept many students in school. Similar classes open the creative brain in children, which allows teachers to get the students creative juices flowing. When the creative juices flow, students are more attentive to subject matters that need to be taught.

Children mimic behaviors that they see most and they learn from their environment. I was one of the few that was determined to achieve more than what I saw and grew up around. It paid off.

   First off it is very difficult to change anything in our current educational system in regards to engineering due to the fact that most of the people running the system do not understand what engineering is. I am a self taught engineer. When I was in school I was told I was not college material since I had not done well in Algebra taught the way it was. I was told to go take shop.

   I ended up teaching at an Aviation High School through a vocational certificate. I now design and build mechanical engineering laboratory equipment for mostly 4 year colleges. I have designed a system to allow high schools to operate our research grade quality equipment remotely via the internet, so the students have accurate data to work with. 

    The curriculum is being designed so that the math is all truly hands on. There is a real reason for doing a specific problem, essentially the math becomes a tool to solve a problem.

      One mayor thing wrong with our current educational system is that it requires students to have a certain amount of math before entering a physics or pre-engineering course. There are a great deal of students who have the talent to become successful engineers but just do not do well learning math and science taught under the current rote and drill memorization method. I remember asking my algebra teacher "Why do I need to know this" The answer I was given is "There is test on Friday and if you do not do well on the test you will never get into college"

   We are also working on adopting this system for intro into engineering at the middle school level. For that I developed a series of lesson plans based on data from a soap box derby car.

Jack Gilbet

MechNet Inc. / GDJ Inc


Natasha what a fabulous story. I love that you highlight the need for 5th grade math. Thank you!
Jack your point is well taken. My father was a poor student and suffers from dyslexia. He is self taught yet holds many patents. Engagement is critical for all type of students.

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