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National Engineers Week a Chance to Teach and Inspire

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Upon entering the UC last Wednesday, UNO campus-goers saw crowds of children visiting to learn about engineering and science from a movie, a portable planetarium and many tabletop demonstrations. More than 1,600 area students attended National Engineers Week 2018.  

“It was a great event for the engineering program, because it gets kids to consider a future career in the field,” said John Hall, a senior Electrical Engineering major at UNO. “They got to learn about our robotics club and talk to representatives from NASA and engineers from the military.  It’s also great for their parents, because it gives them direction on how to get their kids involved in engineering before starting college.”

Beginning in 1951, engineers celebrated the week for not only the birth of our first president but also America’s first engineer.

“The week of Washington’s birthday is what we consider National Engineers Week,” said Interim Associate Dean of Engineering Kim Jovanovich.

UNO paid tribute with its second annual day-long event, which served as a free field trip opportunity for schools all over greater New Orleans and the Northshore.

Lines of students strung across the second floor of the UC waited to duck inside a black inflatable dome – a planetarium assembled by NASA, complete with a 360-degree film made to captivate about a dozen cross-legged students at a time.

The majority of the event’s visitors milled about the gallery lounge, exploring rows and rows of tables arranged with a potpourri of engineering demonstrations and challenges. Students measured out 2 ounces of water using only 5-ounce and 3-ounce containers, built bridges from sheets of paper to support weighted sacks, and solved a circuitry problem within a NASA spacecraft. In one corner, students gathered to experience virtual reality goggles presented by Shell.

Said Jovanovich of UNO’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), “I challenged them to come up with a demonstration of an invention an African-American came up with.” The members brought forth the electric traffic light, created by a Salt Lake City policeman named Lester Wire in 1912.

Each table was hosted by a student organization or visiting exhibitor, including the UNO chapters of NSBE and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, Intralox, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Entergy, Monsanto, Girl Scouts of America, Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Shell, the U.S. Naval Research Lab and NASA.

“We invite companies that have hired a lot of [UNO’s] engineers,” said Jovanovich.

Inside the ballroom, Jovanovich held five consecutive screenings of “Dream Big: Engineering Our World,” a 45-minute documentary depicting the worldwide efforts and achievements of engineers. Narrated by Jeff Bridges, it surveys endeavors big and small, focusing on how much engineers can impact their communities. The film presents the twisting 2,073-foot Shanghai Tower as “a city within a city,” a new Haitian river footbridge as an improvement that brought life-changing “safety and new opportunities,” and the superfast magnetic “Hyperloop” train as a “potential engineering marvel.”

Those who missed last Wednesday’s screenings can catch it again at Louisiana’s Art and Science Museum in Baton Rouge, where “Dream Big” is now showing. The official website, dreambigfilm.com, also shares highlights and behind-the-scenes looks from the movie.

Looking on the expo with Jovanovich, UNO Provost Dr. Mahyar Amouzea expressed concern about the lack of female interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). “Female engineers hover [at] around 18 percent [of the engineer population],” he stated. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) corroborates this, where other sources cite even an even smaller number– around 13 percent.

“Fifty percent of the engineering population is just like me,” said Jovanovich. “…White male.”

Moreover, University of Wisconsin psychologist Nadya Fouad found in a survey of 5,300 female engineering graduates that about 38 percent had left the field. She alleges that a majority-male work climate is the issue.

On the other hand, evolutionary biologist Heather Heying supports the idea that women, on average, have different interests and aptitudes than men.

“There are differences between men and women…This is a strange position to be in, to be arguing for something that is so universally and widely accepted in biology,” said Heying.

The College of Engineering organized the event with the help of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and Core Element, a UNO-based organization that helps teachers engage students in STEM learning.

“I think it’s satisfying,” said Jovanovich as he surveyed the gallery lounge, “to see so many students interested in a career I’ve enjoyed.”

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National Engineers Week a Chance to Teach and Inspire