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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.

Lindsey Nguyen '10, a Smith engineering major from Brockton, Massachusetts, joined the cast of Design Squad, which features contests between teams of students to find solutions to engineering challenges, for its third season. In an episode filmed this summer in Boston, Nguyen and her teammates designed a catapult to deliver T–shirts to fans during a WNBA team's basketball games.

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 engineering programs.

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.

Lindsey Nguyen '10

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 shows.)

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.

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