The demise of American engineering? Hardly

The sunset for US industry will look exactly like the sunset for US agriculture: less labor, more automation, and much more innovative design.

Ken Osburn/The Greenville News/AP Photo
In this May 19 photo, Clemson University civil engineering student Jackie Blizzard is shown.

What's to be made of the demise of American manufacturing? Of American engineering?

While both concerns may be overblown, one wonders if a country can maintain its innovative lead in industry, when just over 10 percent of its workforce (that is, parents) are employed in industrial jobs. I'm reminded of my own father's constant efforts to get his kids excited about model rocketry, remote controlled airplanes, and plastic WW2 aircraft models. He would spend many hours over many months building the intricate models in the basement. And when spring came, Troy and I spent mere minutes crashing them.

Thanks to Pop's crash engineering, I was inspired to join the Air Force, with the stated intention of being the first man to walk on Saturn (Update: didn't happen). My brother was inspired to crash a handful of family cars ... but that's another story. We both became entrepreneurs. But I wonder about all the kids who didn't have a father like Pop. Where do they get hands-on engineering play, especially with so many budget cuts to invaluable programs like shop class in middle school? Legos, maybe?

I was directed to a fascinating article in the NYTimes about kindergarten engineering by Stefano Bernardi (who kindly commented on my previous post). Students spend 15 hours on engineering projects such as designing a Wolf-proof house that can't be blown down. This strikes me as a perfect way to make engineering accessible to young minds, not something distant and difficult. And come to think of it, engineering is arguably the most kid-friendly subject, or it would be if teachers framed lessons plans around pyrotechnics. Imagine the lesson plan: Smashing versus Crushing, Which Works Best?

As for American demise, put me in the optimist camp. The sunset for U.S. industry will look exactly like the sunset for U.S. agriculture: less labor, more automation, and much more innovative design. That equation will demand better engineering classes, so you have to believe that's in the works, too. Count us in, for our son and our daughters.

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