She’s a Mother of an Engineer!

Women in Engineering Newsletter

Mother’s Day 2006
Sunday 14th May


Nurturing Diversity in Engineering

Valerie Maxville

You may have heard talk about encouraging diversity in engineering, or you may wonder why there is a need for a Women in Engineering groups.  I will quote Wm. A. Wulf to give an eloquent overview of the argument for increasing diversity:

 

“Our profession is diminished and impoverished by a lack of diversity. It doesn't take a genius to see that in a world whose commerce is globalized, engineering designs must reflect the culture and taboos of a diverse customer base. Absent a diverse engineering team, those sensitivities may not be reflected. But it's deeper than that. It's not just that Asians are a different size or that women have different needs than the 50th-percentile U.S. male. Marketing can tell you that.

Rather, it is that the range of design options considered in a team lacking diversity will be smaller. It's that the constraints on the design will not be properly interpreted. It's that the product that serves a broader international customer base, or a segment of this nation's melting pot, or our handicapped, may not be found. It is that the most elegant solution may never be pursued.

There is a real economic cost to that. Unfortunately, it is an opportunity cost. It is measured in design options not considered, in needs unsatisfied and hence unfulfilled. It is measured in "might have beens," and those kinds of costs are very hard to measure. That doesn't change the fact that they are very real and very important.

Every time we approach an engineering problem with a pale, male design team, we may not find the best solution. We may not understand the design options or know how to evaluate the constraints; we may not even understand the full dimension of the problem.”
(Wulf, 1998)

 

So, what does this mean to the family?  Surely collective diversity is a process that goes on at an individual level throughout each person’s life.  Many people consider the education system to be the enemy of individualism and creativity, which has resulted in research and trials of new styles of teaching at all levels.  Parents and teachers each have a part to play in retaining and promoting the special attributes of each child.  It is important to recognise the natural talents, but not to create pigeonholes, we can use this knowledge to help provide an approach to tailor the learning process.

 

Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences lists seven “intelligences” that will be seen in various combinations in individuals:

 

  1. Linguistic intelligence (as in a poet);

  2. Logical-mathematical intelligence (as in a scientist);

  3. Musical intelligence (as in a composer);

  4. Spatial intelligence (as in a sculptor or airplane pilot);

  5. Bodily kinesthetic intelligence (as in an athlete or dancer);

  6. Interpersonal intelligence (as in a salesman or teacher);

  7. Intrapersonal intelligence (exhibited by individuals with accurate views of themselves).

 

Some would add an 8th intelligence – Naturalist, having an affinity with the natural world.  Gardner goes on to discuss distributed intelligence, which relates nicely to the diversity in engineering argument.

 

A child with Logical-mathematical and/or Spatial intelligence is quite likely to move well through the education system and perhaps find their way into engineering and sciences.  But when you consider the permutations and combinations of the 7 (or 8) intelligences, filtering on two areas loses much of the diversity to our fields.  That is not to say that we should force children into fields of study against their will, but we can try to trigger some interest and different perspectives through their particular areas. 

 

So, a child could be given physical interaction in a process, say cooking or gardening, with reinforcement of the engineering aspects.  Cooking a meal can involve parallel tasks and will have a critical path of activities that is a lower limit on the required time to produce a meal.  In developing a garden you can involve the children in determining the requirements, design, planning, implementation, review and maintenance – then planning the next project.  Encouraging team efforts in cleaning and packing away can help social and managements skills.  Gardening and outdoor projects can also encourage an awareness of nature and the impact of development – what happens to all the ants, bugs and lizards when you put a path through their home?

 

In summary, the home is an excellent place to concentrate on diversification of skills and awareness at the individual level.  In our busy lives, it may be faster and easier to be outcomes based – the kids are fed, washed, dressed, taken to school and sport – tick… tick… tick… tick… … tick!  But the breadth of experience comes from staying in the moment and finding new lessons to explore from the everyday, perhaps using the “intelligences” as a guide to different dimensions to investigate.  This may help us nurture Renaissance children, who have an understanding and interest in more than their particular areas of talent and will become highly valuable in this complex, globalised society.

 

References

 

Wulf, Wm. A.  (1998) “Diversity in Engineering”, The Bridge, Volume 28, Number 4 - Winter 1998,  http://www.nae.edu/nae/bridgecom.nsf/weblinks/NAEW-4NHMBG?OpenDocument

Gardner, Howard (2005) “Intelligence in Seven Steps”, http://www.newhorizons.org/future/Creating_the_Future/crfut_gardner.html

Andersen, Jan (2005) “Nurturing The Genius in Your Child”, http://articles.familylobby.com/97-nurturing-the-genius-in-your-child.htm  

 


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