Two years ago, I taught a science and engineering after-school program to a group of fifth and sixth grade girls. I asked them what engineering is. No surprise, their answers were all associated with fixing things and building a building. This echoes some research findings that these are common misconceptions about engineering. After completing the program, the girls could identify what engineering is. But they still did not want to pursue engineering as a career choice. What went wrong?
I think it is the way that we present engineering to them. Next Generation Science Standards 2013 defines engineering in a very broad sense to mean "any engagement in a systematic practice of design to achieve solutions to a particular human problem." In short, the essence of engineering is a goal-directed problem-solving activity to find the best solution for a human-made problem. This is really important work that will benefit large numbers of people. Now, how can we convey that to the youth?