Getting students involved in STEM from a young age is one of the best ways to get them familiar with all the possible tech careers they can explore. As you probably know, the “E” in STEM stands for engineering. While you may have an excellent idea of what engineers do, it’s not always easy to explain that to students while providing fun, comprehensive examples of the type of work they conduct.
Fortunately, National Engineers Week falls this month, which provides one way for students to explore engineering. The week is ideal for introducing kids to all the disciplines of engineering through engaging discussions and activities.
Read on for a short and sweet description of the different types of engineers and their work, then initiate conversations with your potential future engineers on all the cool things they do.
Lastly, get students involved with Sphero products to take children through the engineering design process and make it fun by using programmable robots, interactive STEAM activities, and littleBits kits.
What is Engineers Week and How Can You Partake?
Engineers Week extends from February 21 to the 27th this year, and anyone interested in the exciting profession can partake online. (DiscoverE, 2021) However, not everyone has the chance to meet an engineer in real life and learn about what they do daily for work. Engineers Week changes that by allowing engineers to talk to students and parents about what they do.
This year, events and presentations will take place online. You could even arrange a Zoom call with an engineer in the community, or you could post on social media using the hashtag #Eweek2021. (DiscoverE, 2021) For more ways to partake in Engineers Week, you can check out the Explore Engineering webpage (DiscoverE, 2021).
Six Different Types of Engineers and What They Do
When teaching students about engineering, it can be hard to describe such a diverse group of professionals. To simplify, you can break it down into the main types of engineers. Then, you present the roles of each engineer and increase their curiosity to consider the engineering path. On top of rigorous math and science education, engineers also need to be creative to solve complex problems. Each of these six different types of engineers requires a bachelor’s degree in their engineering specialty.
1. Mechanical Engineers
Mechanical engineers represent the most diverse of the bunch. Often referred to as the Jacks and Jills of all Trades, they study a little bit of all types of engineering: chemical, electrical, civil, computer, and structural engineering. Mechanical engineers specialize in their last years of study to focus more intently on what they wish to do, like:
- Aerospace engineering
- Fluid mechanics
- Mechatronics and robotics
- Automotive design
- Propulsion and engine technology
Mechanical engineers use their problem-solving skills to design, maintain and improve machinery, products, and systems (Austin Nichols Technical Search, 2019). They create and innovate all day, transforming their ideas from dreams to reality. They use design skills, analysis tools, and real-world testing to ensure their creation remains safe, accurate, and cost-effective.
2. Electrical Engineers
Electrical engineers partake in designing, building, and improving anything electric-powered. Examples of electrical engineering inventions include microchips, power stations, and the induction motor (Austin Nichols Technical Search, 2019).
Consider littleBits kits that demonstrate different electrical equipment in ways much more fun than discussing the design process without examples. Take the littleBits o26 speaker or the p4 power module, and have some fun designing a circuit and problem solving any issues just as an electrical engineer would on a larger scale.
3. Civil Engineers
Civil engineers represent the masterminds behind the designs of buildings, bridges, and other infrastructures like roads, subways, and waste systems. As experts in building materials, stress analysis, and safety, civil engineers employ critical problem-solving. They help build disaster management systems and meet environmental design problems head-on (Ryerson University, 2021).
4. Chemical Engineers
Chemical engineers work in different industries, including pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, agriculture, food processing, and energy production. In addition to the math and science skills that all other engineers possess, chemical engineers spend substantial time in the lab — focused on chemical processes, reactions, and analysis.
Examples of their daily work include:
- Designing food processing methods
- Formulating new fertilizers for farmers
- Creating synthetic fibers for clothing
- Optimizing processes for medication production
- Refining petroleum products (American Institute of Chemical Engineers, 2020.)
5. Industrial Engineers
Industrial engineering offers an interesting specialty, combining the hard skills of math and science with the soft skills of workplace design and operations research. In essence, industrial engineers help people better use technology to do their jobs. They can be found in diverse industries and departments — improving efficiency, safety, quality, and worker well-being (Dalhousie University, n.d.).
6. Software Engineers
One of the largest areas of growth and hiring over the last decade has occurred in software engineering. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020.) With nearly everyone relying on software to do their jobs and communicate, software engineers remain in high demand. They work on many projects, such as:
- Website design
- Software development
- Mobile app creation (for iOS and Android phones)
Learn More About the Engineering Design Process During Engineers Week
Each of the engineering disciplines uses the engineering design process — a specific set of steps used to create products and solve problems with technology. (Science Buddies, 2021.) You can explore the design process as part of Engineers Week. The process can be summarized with the following steps:
- Define the problem
- Do background research
- Specify requirements
- Brainstorm solutions
- Choose the best solution
- Develop the solution
- Build a prototype
- Test and redesign
- Communicate the results (Science Buddies, 2021.)
To take students on the journey of going through the engineering design process, you could use the littleBits STEAM Student Set, which contains a host of components and guided challenges. If they're feeling inventive, they could even use the littleBits Invention Log to document an exciting new creation of their design.
American Institute of Chemical Engineers. (2020, July 23). What do chemical engineers do? https://www.aiche.org/k-12/what-do-chemical-engineers-do
Austin Nichols Technical Search. (2019). 5 different types of engineers explained. https://www.austintec.com/5-different-types-engineers-explained/
Dalhousie University. (n.d.) What is industrial engineering? https://www.dal.ca/faculty/engineering/industrial/about/whatisIE.html
DiscoverE. (2021). Celebrate engineers week. http://www.discovere.org/content/celebrate-engineers-week#overlay-context=our-programs/engineers-week
Ryerson University. (2021). Civil engineering. https://www.ryerson.ca/civil/
Science Buddies. (2021). The engineering design process. https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/engineering-design-process/engineering-design-process-steps#:~:text=The%20engineering%20design%20process%20begins,is%20built%20and%20then%20tested.&text=If%20the%20solution%20does%20not,is%20thought%20of%20and%20tested.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020). Software Developers. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/software-developers.htm