Engineering the Future

March 3, 2011

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Across the country, scientists, educators and politicians alike are searching for the best ways to revitalize America's commitment to innovation.

One way engineers are seeking to nurture an interest in science, engineering and entrepreneurship among students is through Design Squad Nation, a new series on PBS. (Design Squad Nation is actually a redesign of a series called Design Squad in which teens competed in engineering challenges for the chance to win a college scholarship from the Intel Foundation.)

Design Squad Nation follows professional engineers Adam Vollmer and Judy Lee as they cross the world looking for teens and young adults who “like being creative, sharing ideas with friends, inventing things and changing the world.”

Along their journey, Vollmer and Lee help young people develop and execute the things they wish for, like a green way to transport fresh local food, a cake that moves and an outfit made out of uncommon materials. While on sight, they teach the kids essential skills like teamwork, brainstorming and prototyping.

For instance, in one episode, the hosts help two fashion design students, Eduarda and Juan, attempt a challenge put forth by professional, American designer Christian Siriano: To engineer a gown inspired by one of his designs. Using motors, LED lighting and a laser cutter, the designers learn the important relationship between fashion design and engineering.

The challenge, Eduarda said, is overwhelming “just because it is something completely new. It's not just about fashion, it's fashion incorporated with engineering, which I think a lot of people don't put the two together automatically.”

But that's the point of the program. To show kids how engineering fits into their everyday activities and interests. And that it can be fun. As the website says, “I didn't know that engineers built cool stuff like this.”

For kids watching the show, the Design Squad Nation website provides tips and tools for becoming an an engineer at home. And it has a forum where kids can share their own dreams and draw sketches and design prototypes to help other kids acheive their dreamss.

Hopefully, Design Squad Nation can get viewers excited about design, engineering and the creative process at an early age.

Kathie