We all know how important it is for young people to have good, strong role models in life — someone to look up to, to idolize, to emulate. Most kids worship athletes, rock stars, or actors. Some even look up to firemen, policemen, and doctors. But when was the last time you heard a kid say, “I want to be an engineer when I grow up!”? It's not something I remember hearing from any kid I've ever met.

Unfortunately, the engineering profession is perceived as a behind-the-scenes job in which even the best of the best go unnoticed. Engineers are the guys who carry pocket protectors and wear black-rimmed glasses, the guys who love math and science — you know, the geeks of the world. I must admit, I've known several guys who fit this profile.

But who's really to blame for this misperception? Obviously, the engineers who still wear the pocket protector deserve a little grief, but if you're not getting the word out about how exciting this profession can be, you should shoulder some of the blame, too.

Are you embarrassed of your profession, or do you just not know how to convey the excitement of your job to today's kids? I think it's the latter. So stop hiding behind the scenes and start educating our young people on the merits of the engineering profession. And what better time to get involved than during National Engineers Week, Feb. 16-22?

Founded in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers and sponsored by more than 100 engineering, scientific, and education societies and major corporations, National Engineers Week is dedicated to increasing public awareness and appreciation of engineers and to encourage pre-college interest in science, technology, and engineering. National Engineers Week programs target today's K-12 students and serve as recruitment sessions for the engineers of tomorrow. Cleverly disguised as fun activities, the following programs help plant the engineering seed in young minds:

  • ZOOM Into Engineering, an educational program aimed at 6- to 11-year-olds and designed in conjunction with the popular PBS television show “ZOOM,” offers intriguing glimpses into the world of engineering with simple and fun experiments, insights on teaching, and tips on how to organize workshops and events.

  • If you thought it was tough to get boys interested in engineering, imagine trying to pique girls' interest. Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, supported by more than 100 organizations, tries to reach 1 million girls per year.

  • The Future City Competition challenges middle school students, working under the guidance of teachers and volunteer engineers, to build computer and three-dimensional scale models of cities of tomorrow.

  • Discover “E,” a nationwide program of 40,000 engineers, helps more than 5 million elementary, junior, and senior high school students discover practical applications of math, science, and technology with hands-on activities through school and extracurricular programs.

To get involved in National Engineers Week, contact a teacher or principal at your local elementary, middle, or high school and offer to provide hands-on experiments relevant to engineering. Participate in the Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day program. Volunteer to help a local middle school participate in the Future City Competition. One engineer can make a difference.