Monday, July 5, 2010

Just a guy from New Hampshire

I was flipping through the June issue of the IEEE Women in Engineering magazine, and came across an interview with Dean Kamen. Kamen is a really fantastic (albeit eccentric) inventor, responsible for: the first stair climbing wheelchair, the segway, the first insulin pump, and other neat things. The article was focused on his recent novel inventions for extremely efficient power generators and water purifiers to be given to people in developing countries. I absolutely loved this quote:
Image by James Young Art
He has been called an idealist, an optimist, and occasionally even naïve for his big ideas about fixing the world’s problems. Kamen says he sometimes even wonders himself. 'I think, well, if with all their resources the United Nations and everyone can’t do it, I must really be nuts trying to do it myself—I’m just some guy from New Hampshire.'"
The article goes on to discuss his efforts in STEM outreach and education. I liked this quote too:
"'You get what you celebrate' is a common catchphrase of Kamen’s. He has noticed a crisis in United States culture: young kids are growing up excited about being football stars and actors, not engineers or scientists. Despite the one-in-a-million chance of succeeding in show business or professional sports, our society encourages kids to prioritize these dreams over other options. Celebrating Britney Spears and Shaquille O’Neal over our inventors, scientists, and engineers skews too many kids away from careers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, resulting in a nationwide shortage of engineers and scientists and a drop in our global standing in technology development. The solution, obviously, is to change our culture."
Indeed! (Though I'm not sure I buy the shortage part. IEEE has a bit of a bias here.)


  1. Maybe the shortage is the perceived shortage they keep talking about. As in *if* all the baby boomers working in science/engineering suddenly retire we'll have a shortage. But they kept prophecizing that ten years ago and it didn't happen, and now with everyone's 401ks crashing I think it's even less likely. I assume they also forget in academia it's common for people to work well into and past senility (70s, 80s, 90s even) or that an office job that most engineers have isn't something that you have to be perfectly healthy for.

  2. Absolutely. These forecasts always seem unusual to me, because we don't have anything like forced retirement. At my last place of employment, I can remember going to someone's "retirement party", and then weeks/months/years later they're still coming in to work every day, still have an office, still get a paycheck, etc. It's all very strange really.

    As for academia, DeanDad had an interesting post about this, having an expiration date for tenure, etc. It's definitely a complex issue. I know I'd be mad as hell if someone tried to force me to retire. :-)