National Engineers Week: Inspiring Wonder

Look around for a minute and just wonder. Who was it that first asked, can we have a phone without wires? Who looked at a two-story office building and wondered, couldn’t we better use prime real estate land by building up…and up and up? Who considered the benefits of traveling underground instead of on top? Who wondered, can we stop going to the well and have the water indoors—and later flushed a toilet and wondered if there wasn’t a better way to manage all that wastewater?

Our lives are full of advantages, conveniences and taken-for-granted functionality made possible by engineers. And whether the engineering was truly an innovative marvel or the building of a better mousetrap, every engineering process starts the same way. Someone wonders “what if” and then asks “how?”

More often than not, when we introduce the concept of “celebrating engineering,” people instantly go to the results—the smartphones, skyscrapers, metros, indoor plumbing and reuse systems that allow us to more aggressively conserve our precious resources. But this year’s celebration of National Engineers Week (Feb. 18-24) directs our focus instead to the critical step that launches every engineering achievement: wonder. This year, communities are being called to celebrate engineers for allowing their minds to explore and dream, for having the initiative to not only ask “what if?” but also “why not?”, and for having the drive to get to work figuring how to make it happen.

The theme of Engineers Week, Inspiring Wonder takes the activities a step further and introduces the most critical mission of all, nurturing the next generation of engineers. By inspiring wonder, Engineers Week aims not only to get youth thinking about careers as engineers—but to get them excited about it, to have them develop a real thirst for being the next person be responsible for something new, bigger or better. It aims to give children that first exhilarating taste of wondering what if, and then letting their minds explore how to make it happen.

During Engineers Week, I encourage you to take a child on a journey of wonder with you. Look at a product of engineering and explore how it could be improved, or define a problem, then brainstorm solutions. It is amazing just how far wondering has brought civilization. And it’s exciting to think where it the next generation of “wonderers” will take us next.