“I begin with an idea, and then it becomes something else.” -Pablo Picasso
Recently, I was approached by Washington STEM to be a part of their teacher spotlight series. My initial response was “of course,” I love visitors and my classroom is always open. Next came hesitation, “But I’m not a STEM teacher.” This thought permeated through my head. If you asked me how I understood science and math as they connected with engineering I would, in fact, have a hard time communicating what an engineer even was. Sure my understandings of mathematics were rich, but my connection to what I perceived as engineering was minimal. I knew very little about sophisticated computer applications, heavy machinery, etc. This disconnect left me feeling insufficient and scared of calling myself a STEM (science technology engineering and math) teacher.
As I contemplated this opportunity, I became more aware of why/how my fear was derived. In 4th grade I remember trying feverishly to complete a light bulb circuit. As punishment for my many failed attempts, and near tears with humiliation, I was forced to lose all recesses. In 8th grade, I failed again. I was supposed to learn how to sauder. As I watched many students succeed, I faced public failure through repeated attempts, all of which resulted in a lack of success. This resulted in a desperate plea to my father to fix (rather build himself) my project so I could maintain my GPA. These moments of failure created a drastic fear of engineering. College bound and future driven, I was scared to invest time and energy if I could not predict instant success thus, steered clear of such opportunities.
Fast forward to the past two days. I had the opportunity to join Washington STEM on #stemontheroad (a 36-hour immersion in STEM education throughout the Puget Sound Region). Surrounded by educational leaders, community activists, philanthropists, and teachers, my mind was finally able to redefine what an engineer is. To me, engineering is failing and trying again. It is generating ideas and being willing to explore those ideas with an expectation of growth along the way. It is developing our creativity through practice, an open mind, and exploring our own curiosities. Perhaps what I have realized is that my view was too limited. An engineer is a creator, a problem solver, and someone who perseveres to look for solutions and ideas that improve or help us understand a component of our society.
Some things haven’t changed. I still lack an understanding of heavy machinery and I’m aware that years of failing to ask questions has created a lack of confidence that will take time to decrease. But, as I redefined engineering in my mind, I realized that I too am an engineer. I am an engineer when I craft hands-on lesson plans that explore mathematical concepts. I am an engineer when I create my own recipes, even if some taste better than others. I am an engineer as I choreograph dance routines. And I am an engineer when I attempt Do-It-Yourself projects as I decorate my home.
Maybe the real challenge is in seeing the engineer inside of us all. Not limiting our scope to a long held viewpoint or a label placed upon us by a college degree or position.
I challenge each one of us to share your photos and stories as we create new ideas, concepts, improvements, etc. Through #icreate we can begin to shape our minds and the minds of others as we realize that the design process lies within each of us. Through celebrating innovation we can come together as a creative species void of labels or definitions that limit our mind’s ability to explore, connect and grow.