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More Young People Need to Pursue the 'Magic of Engineering'

Feb. 20, 2020 | BY C. Todd Lopez , DOD News

The Defense Department's chief technology officer said more must be done to encourage young people to pursue engineering careers.

A man stands behind a lectern.
Griffin Remarks
Michael D. Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, speaks at the Pentagon during a National Engineers Week event, Feb. 19, 2020.
Photo By: Marine Corps Sgt. Ryan G. Coleman, DOD
VIRIN: 200219-D-BE869-003

"One of our critical tasks is how to induce more young people into the magic of engineering, as opposed to being a Hollywood star, an NBA basketball player, [or] a denizen of Wall Street," Michael D. Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said during a National Engineers Week event yesterday at the Pentagon.

Military personnel work outdoors with equipment connected to a tiny jet engine.
Rocket Readiness
Cadet 2nd Class Sarah Gingras opens the valve of an oxygen tank connected to a hybrid rocket engine at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo., Nov. 27, 2018.
Photo By: Joshua Armstrong, Air Force
VIRIN: 181127-F-NH566-001C

"When I am asked to talk to younger folks about just this, I often say — and I will pass it along to you — that my favorite quote about what it means to be an engineer comes from Theodore von Kármán, one of the great engineers of history. Von Kármán said about engineering, versus science in particular, 'Scientists study the world that is. Engineers create the world that has never been.'"

Engineering, Griffin said, is every bit as creative a pursuit as art, music, literature or poetry.

Three men stand under an overhang and work on a small aircraft.
Jet Prep
Engineers prepare an unmanned jet-powered aircraft for a flight test at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., July 25, 2019.
Photo By: Giancarlo Casem, Air Force
VIRIN: 190725-F-HC101-1004C

"Our tools are just different," he said. "Our tools are the tools of physical law and mathematics, but also of human ingenuity and creativity."

For example, Griffin said, if a young woman aspires to creativity, she is as apt to accomplish that within engineering as in any other field.

"That applies to any of us," he said. "I would offer that as something to pass along to the next generation. A new engineering creation is something that has never existed before in the history of the universe. ... It's an awesome thought when you realize as an engineer you can divine an idea, bring it to practice, something that has never existed before in the history of the universe."

A jet engine in a test facility emits a glowing exhaust.
Propulsion Test
48th Maintenance Group aerospace propulsion technicians test an F-15 aircraft engine at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Feb. 5, 2020.
Photo By: Airman 1st Class Madeline Herzog
VIRIN: 200205-F-ZB805-0187C

Griffin is responsible for the research, development and prototyping activities across the Defense Department enterprise. Among other things, he ensures technological superiority for the department and oversees the activities of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Missile Defense Agency, the Defense Innovation Unit and the DOD Laboratory enterprise.