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Teens Don’t Know from Engineering

student in classroom

Want to boost the nation’s supply of engineers? A new survey of 1,000 U.S. teenagers conducted by the Intel Corporation may point to a relatively simple solution: expose more middle and high school students to engineering.

The survey, conducted with Change the Equation, found that teens have a generally favorable impression of the discipline – if they know anything about it. Most considered engineers  “smart” and  “inventive.” Yet when asked if they had ever considered a career in engineering, only about a quarter of them said yes. (Just 18 percent of females compared with 37 percent of males.)

The problem boils down to lack of familiarity with engineering. While teens associated engineers with high salaries–along with doctors, lawyers, and professional athletes–they didn’t really know what engineers did, only that their training was hard or difficult. A third couldn’t name any job opportunities in engineering. “Familiarity is engineering’s weakest link,” the survey concluded.

The good news is that a majority of teens say they would reconsider engineering, despite its difficulties, if they knew more about it. The survey concluded that exposure to any facts about engineering, such as learning about the role engineers played in rescuing Chilean miners, and especially how much money they earn, leads more than half of teens to say they are more likely to consider engineering as a career.

Whether exposure to engineering in high school will help reverse current trends of  American university students dropping out of engineering programs remains to be seen. A recent study from education researchers at Indiana University and the University of Virginia, however, found that the majority of students who concentrate on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) in college actually make that choice during high school.

Intel CIO Diane Bryant urged offering teens more “real-world, hands-on engineering experience and interaction with engineers, like that found in robotics programs and science competitions.”

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