Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Speech about Engineering at a Elementary School

I gave a talk about "A Career in Engineering" at Nick's elementary school on January 19, 2012, as a part of the school's career week activities. The opportunity came in December 2011 when Lily forwarded school counselor Ms. Clark's solicitation of volunteering speakers for the college week and career week in January. I quickly replied to the solicitation offering to talk about engineering as a career option. I also told her that I would use power point presentation for my talk.

The preparations

To be a volunteer of any kind at our school district, I first have to go through a routine background check via the online application for a volunteer position. The application took about 5 minutes.  Then preparation of the talk started.

I treated this presentation just like any  professional presentation I make.

I thought for a few days about what to talk about engineering to elementary school students so that they wouldn't be bored about the subject. Collecting pictures, cartoons, graphs from everywhere to make my presentation more lively to the youngsters, writing about speaking points, thinking about punch lines ...... I spent  a full winter holiday day drafting my 24 page power power point presentation.

Then I spent a couple more hours the night of 1/8/2012 going through my presentation a couple more times, correcting typos, changing phrases, adding details. I also rehearsed a few times until I felt that I could deliver the presentation smoothly.

The Talk

The talk was given at a large assembly classroom equipped with standard conference room hardware - computer and projector. It turned out that I would give the talk to half of the fourth grade students, including Nick. I know quite a few students in the audience, , Michael, Jefferey, Eric... since I was their soccer coach for a few years.

As my laptop was starting up, Ms. Clark gave a brief introduction to the students - "Nick's Dad is going to talk to you about engineering today. Please raise your hand if you have questions during the presentation ..."

"Good Morning everyone", I started my presentation. The students replied in unison, "Good Morning".

"I am Allan.I am a mechanical engineer.  Today I am going to talk to you about choosing engineering as a career". Looking at those curious young faces, I was pleased that I came to give the talk, "Looking around, engineers play critical roles in almost everything you see ......."

My talk included 5 parts:

1. What is Engineering?

I used many examples with pictures to show the diverse fields of engineering: The world's tallest structure is the 829.84 m (2,723 ft) tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (Civil Engineering); Ford Explorer SUV (Mechanical Engineering); Boeing 787 dream liner (ME, Aerospace Engineering, Material Engineering); computers, cellphones (electrical engineering, computer engineering), Computer Game Super Mario Brawls (software engineering).

The students were really interested -  I  raised a few questions to engage them,  many of them asked questions on their own. With all those examples, I gave them a formal definition of engineering: "Engineering is the discipline, art, skill and profession of acquiring and applying scientific, mathematical, and practical knowledge, in order to design and build structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes"
to transition into next part.

2.How do you prepare for a career in Engineering?

The key point here is to relate what is needed to what they learn now.
a. Scientific Knowledge – Physics , Engineering Mechanics, Electrodynamics , Chemistry, Geology……Scientific knowledge are typically represented via mathematical equations.
b. Mathematics is the fundamental tool for science, engineering and technology
c. Modern Engineering is mostly team work. So communication, both verbal and written, is very important

Acquiring knowledge for a career in engineering is an accumulative process.  Your preparation starts at elementary school  - NOW!  - all the way to college
3. Best Engineering Schools

I gave a list of top universities for engineering and Texas universities for engineering.I also talked about degrees - B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. When I told them I have a Ph.D. in engineering, it led to discussions about difference between Ph.D. and M.D.

4.What is an engineer’s day like?

a. Brain storm meeting for concept development; Study of literature; discussion with co-workers
b. Put concept into drawings; conduct engineering analysis
c. test new designs on computers and/or in the laboratories
d. write project reports, finalize designs and send design to manufacturing.

A typical development engineer's day : Mostly in office, work on computers; have project meeting and other meetings; may work as individual or on a team; development can be from days to years

5.Why choose Engineering? 

It is interesting and fun
It is challenging
It is satisfying
It improves the world
It helps to make a good living


Ms. Clark was very pleased with my talk from the length of the talk, to the format, to selection of materials. From conversation with her, I could tell that my talk was more formal than others,  and she was impressed with my Ph.D. as well - my title changed from Nick's dad to Dr. Allan. She ended her final remarks to students with "Let us thank Dr. Allan again for his wonderful presentation".

Nick gave me a passing grade - "you did pretty well!" when I asked him about how I did for the presentation at dinner table that day.


  1. Thanks, this is useful info. I volunteered to present at my kid's elementary, and am looking for pointers and ideas from other parents that have done this how to make the material kid friendly and exciting, what worked (and didn't)..... Wish you posted your presentation online! :-)

  2. Thanks. Am giving a presentation and wanted to brush up on any pointers.

  3. Thanks. I am going to present at my friend's kid's elementary, and this blog is very helpful, give me ideas how to organize my talk.