Could a new MacGyver (a woman) get more people interested in engineering?

The creator of ABC's popular 'MacGyver' series, along with the National Academy of Engineering and USC engineers, are inviting the public to crowd-source ideas for a 'Next MacGyver' project.

The United States has too few engineers and people skilled in science and math. It seems to have a surplus of people who love to watch TV.

That’s a national challenge, as many see it. But MacGyver could probably solve it.

Heard of him? He’s the late-1980s television character who got out of dangerous jams by creatively using whatever slim resources he had on hand. Maybe a paper clip and a shoelace.

In this case, perhaps he’d use America’s passion for TV to get people interested in science and engineering.

Actually, the creator of ABC's popular “MacGyver” series (1985-92) is trying to do just that, alongside the National Academy of Engineering and the University of Southern California's Viterbi School of Engineering.

At a Washington event Thursday, engineering and Hollywood types will launch the “Next MacGyver” project, a contest to generate plot lines for a new TV series, inspired by MacGyver but with an “iconic female engineer” as the lead character.

“Not another MacGyver. Something new. Something better,” says a video promoting the effort.

“Do you think you can out-MacGyver MacGyver? Prove it!” says Lee Zlotoff, creator of the original show. 

The goal is to “crowd-source” this effort, drawing script ideas over the next two months from people who have never been paid to write a TV episode. Five prizewinners ($5,000 each) will polish their pitches with help from Hollywood pros, and hope the idea takes off – not just as entertainment, but as inspiration for a new generation of engineers.

Is this the right idea at the right time? That’s a bit hard to know before a pilot is even written. But many labor economists say the US can use more math and science skills. And in helping to promote the contest, Mr. Zlotoff says, “I literally could not tell you how many times people have come up to me and said ... ‘I went into the sciences because of MacGyver.’ ”

It’s also true that there’s a gender gap in the sciences. The National Academy of Engineering says that less than 20 percent of engineering bachelor's degrees currently go to women.

In truth, the issue may not be as simple or narrow as a “shortage” of STEM-degree grads (in science, technology, engineering, and math). Even as some reports have proclaimed such a shortage, others have called it into question.

Stephen Rose, a George Washington University economist who tracks the evolving US labor market, says the US needs more STEM graduates, but not tremendously more.

More broadly, though, many economists say America’s economic future will hinge in good measure on the quality of its “human capital” – the education and skills of its workers and entrepreneurs. Math and science are vital building blocks.

The US is competing with other nations to retain leadership in advanced industries that are founts of high-wage jobs. And it’s not all about being home to the next Steve Jobs. For America to maintain a sense of widely shared prosperity, the many workers who don’t get four-year degrees will need to keep boosting their skills. Education can then open the door to a continuous "up-skilling" by employers of jobs in the US economy. After all, rising pay hinges generally on rising productivity.

So a "MacGyver"-style show might deliver social benefits – not just by luring a few more engineering majors, but also by inspiring non-engineers toward creative problem solving and practical learning.

In theory, the nations of the world can all grow more educated, innovative, and prosperous together. The more real-life people who have MacGyver-like ingenuity, the better for the world economy.

Yet the current era feels to many like one of unsettling technological change and global competition. Automation has made many once-secure jobs obsolete. Wages for blue-collar men have been stagnating. And although one gender gap is the dearth of women in fields like engineering, another is men falling behind women in educational attainment.

A new report by the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project argues that nurturing a healthy US economy in this era “will require a major commitment to increasing education and skill levels and also to fostering business and organization innovation.”

So, OK, maybe a new MacGyver won’t be able to do all that alone. But she might help.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Could a new MacGyver (a woman) get more people interested in engineering?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today