15 Ways to Spot a Future Engineer

Are some people natural born engineers? Does engineering ability run in the family, like artistic or musical talent?

Engineering is hot right now, and continues to top the list of highest-paying college majors. But, it takes more than desire to be an engineer; it takes passion, ability and academic rigor. How can you spot that passion in children as they explore the world around them and in teens as they start to look into college majors and future career choices?

Engineers are curious, creative, and often have a great sense of humor. They are usually tinkerers, feel that they can fix everything, and will never say, “I can’t.” Plus, a strong interest in math and science is a good indicator of future engineering success.

We often think of an engineer personality, or engineers sharing certain personality traits.  Here are 10 ways that you may be able to spot a future engineer.

Future engineers are:

  1. Curious, creative and enjoy discovering how things work
  2. Always asking “Why?” and “How?”
  3. Fascinated by Legos, K’NEX, Magnetix and other building toys
  4. Interested in science and math, with strong abilities in these areas
  5. Logical, they like to develop theories and explanations
  6. Tinkerers; they like to take things apart to try to make them better
  7. Always looking for a better way to do things
  8. Typically perfectionists who like order and structure
  9. Tenacious; generally up for a good discussion or debate
  10. Interested in solving the world’s problems

There has been a lot of talk about a greater push for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education, and how the U.S. can be more competitive in the world economy by producing more STEM college graduates. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 5 percent of U.S. workers are employed in fields related to science and engineering, yet they are responsible for more than 50 percent of our sustained economic expansion.

Time magazine and many others have explored this issue and discuss possible solutions such as upgrading the quality of the math and science teaching through better recruitment and training, exposing kids to STEM fields early on, and using scholarships and inducements for them to choose STEM careers. Unfortunately, a lot of students aren’t equipped for STEM degree programs due to the quality of education they are receiving at the elementary, middle school and high school levels.

With the thrust for more students to study STEM fields in college, there is also a danger of pushing kids into these fields when there is no real passion or ability there. A child needs to follow his or her own strengths for long-term success.

Here are five more indicators, focused on teens, who may be interested in a future career in engineering. These characteristics of a successful engineering student may help guide decision making:

  1. They have developed apps for phones
  2. They have started a little company or created a product
  3. They have done computer programming
  4. They have taken the highest level math their school offers for four years (ideally AP Calculus BC)
  5. They have also taken four years of science (which ideally includes AP Physics and an AP lab science)

Do you see these traits in yourself and others? What else would you add? If you are an engineer, how did you make your career choice? What advice would you give to teens who are interested in pursuing an engineering degree?

Photo Credit: Lego Boy by Marie in NC on Flickr CC BY 2.0

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12 thoughts on “15 Ways to Spot a Future Engineer”

  1. While all of the science and math classes are great, I think they miss the boat on one thing. They don’t teach young engineers how to get ideas from their heads into the real world. I would have been better served with a shop class in place of one or two math or science classes. Unfortunately, the “college track” doesn’t promote that.

    1. Maria Doyle says:

      Good point! My son is in high school, and I don’t even think they offer shop classes anymore… I agree that the “hands on” aspect of learning is very important as well.

  2. skottmorris says:

    Yes, I completely agree. So many schools are lacking a Tech Ed. program because all these classes have moved to a regional vocational school. Its a shame the regular high school students miss this opportunity because they have been divided into groups by the regional technical schools. There is an option for the high schools. They should consider FIRST as a program to bring in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) and a Tech Ed. outlet for schools that do not have it otherwise. FIRST is a program created by Dean Kamen to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. Check it out at usfirst.org.

    1. Maria Doyle says:

      Thanks for pointing out the FIRST program – great opportunity for schools! Our family had a great experience with FIRST Lego League in the 5th & 6th grades.

  3. Fred Smith says:

    I love FIRST. It fills a gaping whole in early engineering education. But, I would also like to plug the Real World Design Challenge (http://www.realworlddesignchallenge.org/). It is a high-school level engineering challenge that is more academically-oriented. In the last two years, teams have been challenged to design a light sport aircraft, a small unmanned aerial vehicle for search and rescue, and environmentally-friendly mass transit vehicles. Since the teams don’t actually build anything, it has a much lower cost of entry (essentially free), so it may be a good alternative for a competitive and collaborative design project.

    1. Maria Doyle says:

      Thanks for the info, Fred. I just checked out the website – looks like a great program. Good summary video on the home page of the site.

  4. Gaurav says:

    You wont believe I got all this qualities except strong maths and science :p

  5. Kris says:

    Other good programs are Skills USA, Science Olympiad and Vex Robotics which are more common in Nebraska then some of the others listed. For grade school and middle school years we utilized Destination Imagination. The key is getting the schools involved.

    As a mechanical engineer, I have two children going into engineering and my oldest studying Computer Science. They all exibited most of the traits listed. Additionally, the school councelors need to talk to the students about which class they really enjoy.

  6. James says:

    I think you missed meccano on that list. I remember as a child (primary school) looking at the 20% (example) signs you see on roads on hills and wondering what they meant, I knew angles were in degrees so it didn’t make sense, not even my parents knew. I had to ask all the teachers I could until one told me in was the % of a 90 degree angle.

    I would pull apart old cameras and walkmans / stereos to see how they worked (obviously I couldn’t comprehend everything I found). When I look back at it, there really was no other career path I could have taken.

  7. Mike says:

    American engineers could even join the rest of the world if they learnt the difference between between a metre and a meter, program and programme, gage and gauge, check and cheque etc. etc.
    Yours sincerely, a perfectionist that likes order and structure.

  8. Maria Doyle says:

    Wow… thanks for everyone’s continued comments. I’ve listed the websites and Twitter handles for the programs mentioned by Kris & the construction set mention by James above. Lots of good resources, tools & toys out there… (And, cheers to Mike – how about color and colour?)

    SkillsUSA – http://www.skillsusa.org – @SkillsUSA
    Science Olympiad – http://www.sonic.org – @SOAlumniNetwork
    Vex Robotics – http://www.vexrobotics.com – @VEXRobotics

    Meccano construction sets – http://www.meccano.com – not on Twitter, but check them out on Facebook.

  9. Ken Gilleo says:

    Lousy in math? I had everything on the list, except good math aptitude. I could only do well in calculus by memorizing the solutions to all the problems in the book. Now what? Go into Organic Chemistry since it doesn’t require much math and its a great field. 🙂

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