Play on Engineer on TV, Be One in Real Life?

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Every parent knows that when you are trying to convince a kid to do something, sometimes you have to pull out the big guns: toys and TV. You know: "Clean up your room and you can watch 'Phineas and Ferb.'" So perhaps it's not surprising that both are being employed in the effort to get more kids interested in studying science, math and technology.


Earlier this year I wrote about Computer Engineer Barbie, a laptop-toting version of the iconic doll wearing a Bluetooth earpiece, pink-framed glasses and a T-shirt emblazoned with binary code. She's due in stores in time for the Christmas season. Boeing, the aerospace contractor with an aging work force, has teamed with the Entertainment Industries Council to use media to generate more interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers), according to a recent BusinessWeek article.


Richard Stephens, senior vice-president of human resources and administration at Boeing, in testimony before Congress said 10 percent of characters in movies and on TV are scientists or engineers. Unfortunately, though, more than 70 percent of them "kill others, are killed, or are overcome by lay people." Stephens also said that 20 percent of technical employees in the aerospace industry will be eligible to retire in three years. Boeing and other companies can't outsource jobs related to defense contracts to non-U.S. citizens.


Said Marion Blakey, CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association:

We have to home-grow this workforce because of the security clearance requirements.

The industry is already trying to hire folks for more than 7,000 hard-to-fill job openings, many of them related to defense work, she said.


The Entertainment Industries Council in late July brought together engineers and executives from "Lie to Me," a TV show airing on the Fox network; National Geographic Channel, a joint venture of National Geographic Television & Film and Fox Cable Networks; Discovery Communications' Science Channel; and Viacom's Black Entertainment Television during the annual meeting of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association to create a better understanding between the two groups. The council is also plans to honor films, TV series, newspaper, magazines, Internet or radio content that has a positive impact on public awareness of STEM careers.


Positive media portrayals have helped create interest in science in the past. John Kao, chairman of the Institute for Large Scale Innovation and the author of "Innovation Nation," said a Disney series called "Men in Space" caught the attention of many future scientists and engineers during the Sputnik era. Putting qualified math and science teachers in schools is more important than featuring engineers on TV, however, said Kao.