Survey Sheds Light on Sparking Teen Interest in Engineering

By Erik W. Robelen — December 13, 2011 2 min read
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Most teenagers have never considered a career in engineering. That’s the bad news for those who believe the nation needs more professionals in this field. The good news? It may not be hard to spark youth interest in engineering, especially once teens learn how much money they could make and what the jobs might actually entail. (The other good news: Although most teens don’t view engineers as cool, they don’t seem to consider them geeks either.)

Those are among the findings issued this month from a survey commissioned by Intel Corp. The high-tech company argues that nurturing an interest in engineering in high school or earlier is key to building a robust pool of students who will graduate with engineering degrees and become part of the American workforce.

Here are a few statistics from the survey of 1,004 teenagers:

• 63 percent have never considered a career in engineering;

• 61 percent say they are more likely to consider an engineering career after learning that those who major in engineering earn $75,000 a year on average; and

• 53 percent are more likely to consider the career after learning about the breadth of what engineers actually do.

“The results of this survey show the importance of providing teens with opportunities to gain knowledge about engineering,” Intel CEO Diane Bryant said in a press release. “We need to offer teens real-world, hands-on engineering experience and interaction with engineers, like that found in robotics programs and science competitions.”

Intel has long sponsored two precollegiate science and engineering competitions: The Intel Science Talent Search and the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

The survey provided teenagers a variety of information about engineering and then asked if this changed their inclination to consider a career in the field. Among the factors that made a difference were learning that:

• About half the top 20 best-paying college degrees are in an engineering field;

• The music teens hear in movies, on CDs, and in videogames is made possible by sound engineers;

• Engineers are responsible for delivering clean water to communities in Africa;

• Every single roller coaster was designed by an engineer;

• Engineers prevent disasters by constructing dams and levees to keep cities safe.

The survey, conducted in October, also sought to probe the “geek factor” associated with engineering.

Of those teenagers who have never considered an engineering career, only 3 percent described engineers as “cool.” But few also consider them “awkward” (4 percent) or “boring” (8 percent).

The most popular descriptions? “Smart” (40 percent) and “inventive” (39 percent).

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.