Designing futures

Innovation

AS A YOUNG GIRL I was always outside, digging in the dirt and just asking questions. I was (and still am!) fascinated by the scientific world, but I actually became a scientist by accident when I was 18 years old. I had a friend at university who was taking a higher level biology course and suggested that I might be interested too. I was not going for science at the time, but took the course and fell in love and saw a career. For similarly curious young people, I don’t want any more accidents like mine!

The same was the case for James Dyson. He felt he fell into a career in engineering, having originally studied interior design. That’s why in 2002 he set up his Foundation in the UK, with the aim to inspire young people to study engineering and science. The James Dyson Foundation now has extensive engineering programming across the UK, working with 2,000 schools and top universities.

The James Dyson Foundation was launched in the US in 2011, aiming to replicate the success it has had in the UK. Not only do we encourage school pupils, but we also support young designers and engineers in university through the James Dyson Award and, in Chicago, we fund students enrolled in university programmes through bursaries and scholarships.

TEACHING DESIGN ENGINEERING

We design our programmes so that they will be suitable for classrooms across all demographics in the US. At the moment, however, we work most intensely with teachers in Chicago, the third largest school district in the US. Throughout Chicago, we send Dyson engineers into classrooms to engage with students and teach workshops. One of our most successful programmes has been our rapid prototyping workshop, where we set students an open design brief and ask them to come up with a design solution and prototype within two hours.

We also send kits of engineering design curriculum to teachers throughout the country. The kits take thousands of students through the engineering design process by encouraging them to tear Dyson machines apart. We want to lift the lid on the R&D department at Dyson and excite students about what it is like to be an engineer. The curriculum gets students to ask questions about why Dyson engineers made the decisions they did in the creation of Dyson technology and products. Ultimately we are providing industry relevant resources to teach engineering well in the classroom.

We welcome feedback on our programmes from schools (we practice the engineering design process ourselves!), and are therefore continuously improving the curriculums we offer. Feedback so far has shown teachers are pleased that James Dyson and the Foundation feel strongly about giving back and exposing more young people to engineering careers.

BRIDGING THE ENGINEERING SKILLS GAP

The James Dyson Foundation’s work specifically addresses the lack of engineers in the US – or the engineering gap. As a country, we simply are not producing enough engineers to meet the numbers that are demanded by booming technology and engineering industries (this problem is amplified by the fact that just 18 per cent of engineering students in the US are female). In our view, the skills gap can be addressed by getting young people interested in engineering at an early age, regardless of their background. Specifically, we address the crucial question, ‘How can a student become an engineer without knowing what one does or having never met one?’ We work hard to change young people’s assumptions about what an engineer is. By exciting them early on about engineering, we show them the opportunities that this field can provide for them.

The James Dyson Foundation is working to create a cutting-edge model of engineering education. We plan to take that model, validate it with research and expand our curricula throughout the country, serving as a blueprint for how industry can cultivate future innovators.”

Jenna Blanton

 

This copy was taken from a piece published in International Innovation, a unique forum for communication and dissemination of research, on 9 September 2015. The original article can be found here.