Smith Junior One of New
Faces of Engineering on PBS Reality Show
By Eric Sean Weld
During the past decade, Smith College, through the Picker
Engineering Program, has helped reshape the study of engineering by integrating the
discipline into the liberal arts curriculum, expanding its parameters beyond conventional
boundaries and empowering women to succeed in the field.
Across the state, another institution— Boston
television station WGBH, a member of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)— has
embraced a similar objective to alter the culture of engineering. Its national campaign
Engineer Your Life seeks to inspire college–bound girls and women to enter
Engineer Your Life was launched in 2004 when the WGBH
Educational Foundation teamed up with the National Academy of Engineering and the
Extraordinary Women Engineers Project Coalition. The program aims to relay three
key elements of engineering— creativity, exploration and beneficial change— through
its multimedia Web site, engineeryourlife.org,
and the teen–targeted show Design Squad, which pits college students
in engineering competitions.
"We want to reflect the new face of engineering
through programs like Design Squad," said Marisa Wolsky, executive producer
of the show, which in June won an Emmy and a George Foster Peabody Award. "We're
trying to redefine engineering in a broader sense. We try to show that engineering
is fun, that it can solve problems for difficult times."
Now in production of its third season, Design Squad invited
Lindsey Nguyen '10, a Smith engineering major from Brockton, Massachusetts, to
participate in the show following her audition last year.
Design Squad is like a reality show with an educational
focus. The show features contests between two teams of students (the first two seasons
were for high school students and this season is college students), which change
from week to week. Three men and three women work together on their respective teams
to engineer the best solutions to real–world problems.
In a recent "men vs. women" episode, Nguyen
worked with her female teammates on a design for safely and effectively catapulting
T–shirts for the Connecticut Suns WNBA basketball team from the court to fans
seated in the upper sections of the stands during games.
"You feel like a real engineer on this show because
you're always thinking on your feet," commented Nguyen on the show's
production site in Woburn, Massachusetts, as she experimented with the optimal way
to fold a T–shirt. "You're working with materials, you're working
out real problems for use in the real world. And you're trying to have fun."
The third season of Design Squad, with Nguyen
in the cast, was shot throughout summer 2008 and will air in fall 2009, says Wolsky.
(The delay is because of the extensive production and editing necessary for reality
Nguyen, who is interested in a career addressing global
warming issues, refers to herself as the "elder" of the group of Design
Squad contestants, she says, as the sole college junior among a crowd of first–year
students and sophomores. It's that status combined with her Smith education that
she feels lends her the wisdom and patience to navigate tricky communication snafus
during stressful challenges.
"This show is about teamwork, and there are a lot
of communication issues that you have to work out," she says. "Thankfully,
we spend a lot of time on teamwork and leadership at Smith. We change teammates all
the time, but when you're on the same team, you all work together."
Nguyen hopes to be studying abroad, perhaps in Australia,
during the show's run in fall 2009, but she says she plans eventually to watch
every episode. Meanwhile, she has returned to Smith for her junior year, where she
is continuing to navigate toward a career in engineering.