I have a vested interest in science fairs. My kids have been involved with them for many years. Along with some excellent science teachers and mentors, and two parents who are engineers, the fairs have helped keep my children's interest in science and engineering high. My oldest daughter is now studying civil engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.
So what in the world does this have to do with the readers of Electronic Design? Plenty. While the current economic problems have created a glut of engineering talent, the long-term track record in the U.S. hasn't been as good. This is one reason why H1B visas were such a hot topic a few years ago when jobs remained unfilled.
The economic recovery may be slow, but it will persist. However, the source of technical talent necessary to keep economic growth going might not continue.
A variety of factors has contributed to the downward trend in the number of engineering graduates. One cause that I put high on the list is life experience with science and technology. I'm not talking about spending hours on a video game, or taking advantage of waving a laser pointer around at a slide presentation. Rather, I mean taking those things apart and figuring out how they work.
Okay, I know most of you are nodding your heads about this. Few fall into a technology job without a technology background. Most of you started down this path after one or two major experiences very early on. It might have been a teacher who poured nitric acid into a test tube of sugar in science lab, or a math teacher who showed you how to program your calculator to play a game. Either way, someone with a technical background made a difference in your life.
This is where you come in, and maybe your company too. Meet those crazy deadlines for products, but don't forget to give something back to the community. I don't mean donating blood or collecting toys (which are also good things). I'm talking about getting involved with the local schools and science fairs. They definitely need the help. The results may be long term, but they're well worth going after. You might have a lot of fun too. You would be surprised how much your acquired knowledge can mean to students.
It's time to put some money where it will do good. Get your company to sponsor some awards for the next local science fair. There may be a number in your area. Students enjoy trying to win these awards. These events are important because they show the students that technology companies have a place in the area where they live. They also stir up interest in the schools.
Best of all, in these lean times, this project won't cost your company lots of money. Awards can range from trophies to bonds, to a visit to your research lab. I've been to the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab a number of times because this organization recognized my children. They probably won't go into plasma physics, but they'll likely work in some technical field.
Getting involved can also mean judging and mentoring. This provides a great opportunity to see what caliber of students are around and the kinds of interests they have. Don't see enough computer science entries? Sponsor some awards for that area. Better yet, work with the local schools to sponsor some contests using or programming computers.
Don't just donate equipment. Make it part of a mentoring project. Even old Pentium IIs look good when attached to a robot. Make a difference.