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In Search of the 'Piece of Resistance' to Increase Interest in Engineering

Mar 19, 2014   |   by Vicki May   |   The Huffington Post

I must confess: I did not play with Legos as a kid. My brother played with Legos; he became a lawyer. I preferred arts and crafts and playing outside; I became an engineer — a professor of engineering at that. (Yikes. An engineer who didn't play with Legos?! That's almost like saying you're a chef but don't like food, isn't it? I'm hoping they don't take my degrees away.)

Unlike me, my children, Spencer and Elsa, love playing with Legos, so I took them to see The Lego Movie, not expecting to enjoy it myself. But I loved it! Maybe I can keep my degrees after all. My children loved the movie too, by the way, both of them.

In The Lego Movie Emmet, an ordinary LEGO minifigure, finds the "Piece of Resistance," thus fulfilling a prophecy that the Piece of Resistance will be found and that whoever finds it is Special and will save the universe. It turns out that the prophecy was made up, bringing into question whether Emmet is Special or not. Alas, if Emmet is not Special, who will save the universe?

We engineers have been searching for years for the Piece of Resistance, something to save the engineering universe or at least increase interest in engineering. Despite a growing need for engineers in the world, we struggle as a nation to attract students to engineering. Talented students in the U.S. are instead going into business, law and medicine, among other professions. It is not that we haven't been trying to attract students to engineering, but increasing the number of students interested in engineering has proven elusive. And don't even get me started on women in engineering. The number of women and underrepresented minorities graduating with degrees in engineering remains low despite years of trying to attract these students...

...So what is the Piece of Resistance that will save the engineering universe? I'm not sure the cap from a tube of KrazyGlue will quite do it, but I'm hoping we can find a way to allow more students to make choices (the missing Piece of Resistance?). Students all have the potential to be Special and create their own interdisciplinary paths to engineering if we give them the opportunity.

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