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'Cool' factor key to inspiring future tech and engineering stars

13 Mar 2013
Student on a computer

The president of Stanford University has said the study of technology and engineering needs to be considered "cool" to inspire the next generation of talented workers.

Professor John Hennessy said technology innovation is suffering because engineering fails to appeal to students by not doing enough to entice them into the subject.

"The grand challenge for engineering education is to attract the best and brightest young people into this field," said Hennessy, speaking at the Global Grand Challenges Summit in London.

"Engineering currently turns off too many people. It needs to be creative and collaborative and global in outlook to reflect how the world works, and it needs to be inspiring."

He added that advertisements to study engineering often fail to resonate with students. Hennessy point to an old IBM advertisement for engineering that showed a team of all white males in ties.

"The coolness factor is critical to getting young people into the engineering field. They need to see people who look like them."

He also said the problem is many students are not aware of what engineers actually do.

History books carry more information about hippy and drug culture than they do about the internet revolution, and children can just turn on the television to find out what politicians do but engineers are frequently hidden from society, suggested Hennessy

Hennessy said the study of engineering needs to become more people oriented, so that pupils can see how engineers change peoples' lives.

He pointed to a number of recent innovations that should be showcased to pupils, including the invention of mobile phones, the self-driving car, and the creation of the Channel Tunnel.

Students should be challenged to solve global problems, and Hennessy pointed to, as an example, the need to make solar cells easier and cheaper to install in homes.

"We need to get students involved in these kinds of problems earlier," added Hennessy.

Hennessy is a board member of both Google and Cisco and one of the founder members of MIPS Technologies.

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Rosalie Marshall

Rosalie Marshall is the special projects editor and chief reporter at V3. Previously she was a reporter for IT Week and channel editor for online television site Rosalie covers government IT, business applications, IT skills, open source technology and social networks.

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