February 11, 2009
ECE alumnus John Cohn (Ph.D. 1991) once again emphasized the importance of reaching out to kids and getting them excited about science and technology in his invited plenary talk at the International Solid State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) on February 9. Cohn's talk to an audience of 2600 echoed the plea he made to the 2008 IEEE International Symposium on Circuits and Systems held May.
An IBM Fellow and Chief Scientist of Design Automation in the IBM Systems and Technology Group in Burlington, Vermont, Cohn's passion for the past 15 years has been exploring what will motivate kids to join the engineering profession. His "Jolts and Volts" science and technology demonstration has captured headlines in USA Today and EE Times, and has captured the imagination of nearly 50,000 kids who have attended his presentations.
In his talk at ISSCC Cohn discussed data that indicates declining enrollment in engineering in countries throughout the world, with the exception of India and China. Part of the problem, Cohn feels, is the perception that kids have about the field of engineering. Studies have shown, he said, that engineers are not associated with societal concern or improving the quality of life around the world.
But rather than being an alarmist, Cohn believes, that current engineers can do something about this trend by going out into the community and getting kids excited about engineering.
Cohn cited data that shows that the generation now graduating college is more idealistic than any since the 1960s. A survey found that 85 percent of respondents in this generation now entering the workforce said it was important for them to have work that was meaningful and important, a higher percentage than cited a high salary, Cohn said.
Cohn also cited a study done between 2006 and 2008 by the National Academy of Engineering that showed that kids had only a vague idea of what engineers actually do. "They know that it is difficult and requires good math and science skills and isn't for everyone," he said. "We are just not resonating with something that is important to them."
But, just as the launch of Sputnik 50 years ago emboldened a generation of engineering students to win the space race, Cohn believes practicing engineers "can help change the conversation around the engineering profession using a new set of messages and a new set of 'Grand Challenges' based on world issues such as energy, climate and global sustainability."
Cohn earned his Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon with an IBM Resident Study Fellowship, and was advised by Rob Rutenbar, Jatras Professor of ECE.