SCIENCE THAT SETS MINDS RACING

By Max Zimbert, February 16, 2009

Discovery Channel star Deanne Bell and NASCAR driver Leilani M nter made geek chic Monday for 200 middle school students in El Segundo on MathMovesU Day, the first day of Engineers Week 2009.

Raytheon Corp. hosted the students for the national program that engages middle school students about the potential for careers based on science and math skills.

“There’s so many different applications of an engineering degree and so many careers,” Bell said after addressing the students, teachers and company volunteers.

“There is no stereotype of a geek. You can be whatever you want, you can look whatever you want, and you can still use your brain in science and engineering.”

Jets, space pods and other exhibits from the Traveling Space Museum dotted the foyer outside Raytheon’s event center. South Bay and LAUSD students listened to Raytheon engineers and military veterans explain how equipment – like the Zero South Polar Exploration Vehicle – works.

“The whole idea with this is to inspire these kids in fields of math, science and technology,” said Bob Bryen, technology area director for Raytheon SAS and the company coordinator for Engineers Week 2009. “Sometimes what it takes is a little spark to give students the inspiration and understanding that math and science are used in some cool career fields.”

The outreach efforts are industry attempts to keep students engaged in math and science at an age when interest typically declines. Engineers Week continues Wednesday, when high school students are scheduled to work with Raytheon engineers to create a mechanism to harness green energy.

“We’ve seen a growth in interest even with the cutbacks in budgets these days,” Bryen said. “The schools take an interest in what we have to offer as a high-technology company.”

Learning how guided missiles are designed was Nathan Padilla’s favorite part of the day.

Students ate hot dogs while Korean War veteran Jack Craigie, a retired Air Force major, spoke about commitment and aviation pioneers Orville Wright and Chuck Yeager.

“When I say I went 12,000 miles per hour, a few kids say `ooooooh’ – that really grabs them,” he said. “All you really want to do is capture the ones who might wind up here.”

Many students said they enjoyed the MathCounts competition, where teams of two students were quizzed in geometry and algebra by Raytheon engineers. Bob Merrihew, a math teacher at Magruder Middle School in north Torrance, said it was good practice for his MathCounts team, which will face off with other area schools in a competition next week.

“These questions are a little bit tougher, but it does help,” he said. With the exception of one student, “They’ve never competed in a competition like that, so it gives them a little taste of what it’s like, as opposed to being in a classroom with me saying, `Time’s up.”‘

Brian Bodman, a 13-year-old student at Magruder, said he learned how “a crew of scientists and geologists are going to take a Hummer they equipped with tank tracks and take it to Antarctica and turn it into a 3-D movie.”
Raytheon volunteers arrived before 4:30 a.m. to set up. Students came to the Raytheon campus around 8a.m. in heavy rain on a school holiday because of Presidents Day.

“They voluntarily came out here to hear about the cool things going on at Raytheon and to listen to people speak about their careers,” said Bell, the host of Discovery Channel’s Smash Lab. “That says a lot. I think we have a lot of engineers coming up.”