More Female Engineers!

I am proud to be a female engineer.  We are just as good at engineering as males.  And the engineering world benefits from having a diverse population with different skills and points of view.

This new line of kids toys helps young girls develop an interest in science and math which may lead to an engineering career.  Too many science and math toys are not well suited to connect with the interests of young girls.  These books and building toys go together to make a fun and interactive way for girls to create something.  I was lucky enough to like regular blocky Lego’s when I was young, maybe that explains it all…


If you agree, click on this link to see the Huffington Post article, and to click the bottom link and vote for this commercial to air during the Super Bowl.

Love their commercial.


I’m Reading a Book…

Yes, this is a real book.  It has paper pages that you turn to see the next chapter.  I can take this book anywhere, and it never runs out of power so I can read it anywhere.  On a sunny beach, during take-off and landing, and in the bath if I’m careful.

reading-in-the-bathNow I happen to own this particular book.  But I also love to get books from the library too.  Thanks to Benjamin Franklin for creating the free library system, we can use books to travel to a new land, to imagine the impossible, to learn the story and lessons from important people, or to teach ourselves something new.  In fact, that’s why Benjamin Franklin created free libraries, so that poor people can get themselves out of poverty by learning a skill or trade.  At the time, books were only available to people with money who could afford to purchase them or join subscription libraries.

So books can help people lift THEMSELVES out of poverty!  But you have to be able to read first. Illiteracy prevents people from reading street signs and bus signs to get around efficiently, from doing simple accounting to make sure they are getting the correct change for a purchase, or from reading the religious manuscript that guides their life.

buildon-worldwide-mapI know a group that has built over 500 schools in rural areas of developing countries around the world.  Right now, 85,060 children, parents, and grandparents attend those schools and learn to read.  First, buildOn meets with the community members and they elect 3 men and 3 women to form a committee.   The committee works with buildOn to coordinate all the details.  Before the construction starts, all of the community members sign a covenant along with the buildOn members, that promises to send boys and girls in equal numbers to the school and other policies.  buildOn works with the local government to ensure that an educator is provided for the school.  After 22 years since the first school was built in a Malawian village, that community now has 4 more just like it that they built themselves.  Students from those schools are able to learn to be teachers, etc.   It has also improved the standing of women in the community, who are in turn speaking out against some of the awful practices committed against women.

So go read a book, and remember how lucky you are to be able to read.

Humane Education

indexTo all educators, there is a 4th grade teacher, John Hunter, who includes a World Peace game in the curriculum. The movie and TED Talk are both great ways to hear about the educational experience. I recommend watching the extended trailer (second on this webpage).

It’s funny how much of our development includes winners and losers, in teams or as individuals. This game gives kids an experience where to win, everyone has to prosper and benefit.  It teaches them to think of the impact on others, both in war and prosperity.  They have many world problems to solve including environmental issues etc.  Now watch the film again and remember, these are 4th graders; they are ages 9 and 10.

It’s funny because Mr. Hunter makes a comment in the film about the importance of having a strong relationship with the students, which facilitates their learning.  It reminds me of a TED Talk by Rita Pierson, who shows how human relationships are mechanisms for learning.  She says something to the effect of… we won’t learn anything from someone we don’t like.

IMG_8174_905-350x233Building on this theme, I heard an episode on the radio program State of the Re:Union about an alternative education program for teen mothers.  Holyoke is one of the poorest town in MA, 348 out of 351 on the list; 25% of the population is living below the poverty line.  This is where the Care Center has opened up and helps teen mothers learn the skills needed to be successful in life.  Again, the staff discusses the recipe for success which depends on the attitude of the staff and their ability to connect with these young women.  They go on to discuss a recipe for success…

I’ve been wondering a lot lately, what is the recipe for educational success?  What gives someone the drive to succeed?  Maybe there is a biological aspect, a predisposition for a person to be motivated in their educational pursuits.  But there seems to be big component that is environmental.  What outside factors can we control, to create the most positive outcome?   Humans by nature seem to be inquisitive, and learning begins in the womb, so when does it stop and why for so many people?  Unrelated to teen pregnancy, the number of high school student dropping out in the US results in 1 every 26 students.

A common theme I have been seeing is also described by the radio show host.   Someone, a respected adult, sets the expectation of what the student is able to accomplish, and a support system helps the students make the achievements to achieve success.   Sometimes it just takes one person to make a difference, the power of a good mentor can change a person’s life.  And their success is in their rate of students going on to college; the national rate for teen moms is 2%, but the Care Center rate is 75% of graduates.

Education Fundamentals – My Personal Truth

A variety of experiences and knowledge are combining in my world to help me understand and define my personal truth.  And it relates to our socialization and education to create positive impact on humanity.

Books – The following have helped create this understanding of how to create a positive impact on education and humanity:

  • How We Decide, by Jonah Lehr:  The explanation of how the brain naturally works, and the stories of personality changes as they relate to areas of the brain being affected by disease helps me understand the physical control of the brain in the way people think and behave.
  • All of the books by Malcolm Gladwell: give great insight into social behavior and influence.  Especially the book Outliers which analyzes successful people and how they achieved that success.
  • Don’t Shoot ….., by David M. Kennedy:  A documentary style book of the very effective programs ending violent crime in the inner cities.  The story demonstrates how both “good” and “bad” people want the same thing – no violent crime and how the social behavior is significantly influenced by the group expectations.
  • The Neighborhood Project, by David Sloan Wilson:  I will update when I finish the book, but it suggests ideas on how to improve the social welfare of impoverished neighborhoods.
  • Studies of middle-class and working-class families which show the group of learned characteristics that factor into a person’s level of success, such as those in the book Unequal Childhoods by Annette Lareau.
  • Biographies of our Founding Fathers: At the start of the United States, many scholars and experts were self taught by reading and experimenting.  Using science to understand cause and effect, action and reaction, they developed theories on farming, the weather, electricity, etc.  It’s inspiring to read how Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and others developed knowledge about the world and society around them without a governing mandate of public policies.

Examples – I love the concept to “Lead by Example”.  There are groups developing and testing ideas for improved education and humanity.

  • Mission Hill School in Boston: Is implementing a revolutionary teaching concept which will result in students who are independent, interested and personally responsible for their education, and empathetic towards others.  Sounds like an unrealistic ideal right?  You should watch the video in the link to the Humane Connection blog.

Ideas – As Zoe Weil recently said, we all have great ideas for improvement, we just need more people acting on them.

  • I relate to a lot of what Zoe Weil says/writes in her work for Humane Education.

Personal Experience – I grew up in a lower-middle class family in the SF-bay area suburbs, went to a CA state university for my bachelor’s degree, interned with different companies every summer, then started working for a well respected company in the Boston area.  When I came to work, I “had a good education”, but knew very little.  Working beside a group who is so extremely conscientious of their actions and behaviors, and intentional of their impact on work and the world, I learned more in the first few years at work compared to the 17 years (12+5) at school.  How can that be?  What was I doing, why did I waste so much time?

I think we learn from the group around  us, trying to match up with the average knowledge of the group.  The standard of expectation is elevated, and the resources/support will also be elevated.

All Together they tell us that we can improve our society, and we’re learning just how to do that.  The most effective methods are implemented into the culture in the way we treat children.

What ideas do you have for your neighborhood?

Are we just wired that way? Nature vs. Nurture or Neither

First – This Business Insider webpage summarizes many of the amazing understanding about our brain function that I have been reading about lately.

We have significantly advanced our understanding of the brain.  I’m listening to a book called How We Decide.  I’m fascinated learning about how people think, react, what causes us to be and choose as we do.  I love the debate of Nature vs. Nurture.  Are we the way we are because of genetics and biology, or because of circumstance.  (of similar topic is work by scientist Dan Ariely to research the brain and Why We Lie)

On one hand, take two or more people growing up in the same conditions (like me and my two brothers) but we have turned out very different and handle life situations in a very different way.  Certainly our biological disposition alters how we each respond to the same situation.

On the other hand, cultural groups have general characteristics, resulting from common beliefs or behavior.  Hence we have stereotypes for certain groups of people.

  • Debunking/Explaining misconceptions about Russians
  • There are many explanations as to why people from Asian countries are better at math compared to US citizens: Language, Effort, Society Expectations
  • Some stereotypical characteristics result from centuries of control from other cultures, such as the Jews being limited to professions in banking and textiles
  • Are some Italian stereotypes of being overly romantic and easting pasta every day true?
  • Where does the Mexican stereotype of Machismo come from, is it true?

Some stereotypes seem like they are just for show, it’s something shown to outsiders, but not prevalent inside the culture.  Many cultural stereotypes just aren’t true, and it’s often the people themselves with the wrong idea, not others.  In some ways, believing these stereotypes (or racial profiling) can lead us into trouble when we mis-characterize someone.  But when doing business with groups from another culture, it’s important to understand these types of differences.

So what does all of this teach us about environmental factors that affect our behaviors.  How many successful traits can be taught, like the soft skills we must learn by age 6 or so that help us get future jobs and earn more money.  What can we accomplish by focusing on teaching specific skills at each developmental level?

For an interesting conversation on racial profiling (although they only consider potential racism) of black people in the US, check out this On Point conversation.

Finding our Destiny…

I never would have known that Architectural Engineers can inspect copper roofing 250 ft in the air from a truck mounted aerial lift.

From a young age, we are asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  On one hand this is a very reasonable question that emphasizes to young people the importance of choosing a career and the need to prepare for that career from an early age.  Even if we change our minds several times before finally starting our careers, the process of planning and preparing for this important life event and remain dedicated to its outcome.

On the other hand it’s quite ridiculous for kids, even teenagers, and even high school kids, to know what career will be best for them.  First we have to know our strengths and weaknesses, and I find that a small percentage of people are really in tune with these attributes about themselves.  Second we need to know the various professions available, which most young people only know what they see on TV and what their parents do.  Third we need to know what skills and characteristics are needed for each profession, when is that discussed with teenagers or young adults?  Fourth, how the heck can anyone know what a job will really be like and if we will enjoy that profession over the long haul?

Life never works out as we plan, and planning our careers is a very tricky thing to do.  People tend to think of a career as if we are destined to do a certain profession.  There must be something perfect for me, something I don’t have to put much effort into…  No wonder people these days have little work ethic.

Anyone who is REALLY good at their job did not achieve that expertise solely based on their characteristics.  Read the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and you will follow his research to discover what makes someone truly successful.  Although skill and talent may play a role, the only common ingredient is dedication.  People have to spend 10,000 hours practicing something to become a master.  OK, yes, even if I spend 10,000 hours practicing I probably won’t become a master pianist, but I would probably get pretty good.  And even people the The Beatles and Mozart practiced over 10,000 hours before they made it big.

So my point is actually that we go around looking for what we are destined to become in life.  I think we should choose a profession and dedicate ourselves to that career to become successful in life.  I think we need to take more personal responsibility for our success in that profession, or our failure at it.  We can’t know all the possibilities out there, and we may change our mind along the way.  But whatever we are deciding to do, we should dedicate ourselves to the career and recognize the outcome is within our control.  Some people are great at making a plan, but it seems few of us are willing to dedicate ourselves to that plan.  We are too easily dismayed and abandon the path to success.

Yesterday I read a good summary approach for people trying to determine the best career for themselves on The Career Closet blog.