BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — “I want to be an engineer because I think it’s really cool to build robots and code it.”
That’s the reason 5th grader Bela Morley gives for wanting to become an engineer, and it’s a good reason. Bela is one of many children being taught about engineering, what it is, and what students can do with an engineering education by California State University Bakersfield instructor Luis Aguilar as part of the Engineering for Kids educational program.
Mack Hunter, one of the owners of Engineering for Kids of Kern, says the franchise began as a way to reach inner-city schools and kids that wouldn’t traditionally have access to a good STEM program. Since its beginning, Engineering for Kids has expanded to offer homeschool and after-school classes for kids starting as young as 5.
“If you get kids exposed to engineering at a very young age, hopefully we can get them in clove with engineering,” said Hunter. “Because there’s such a shortage of engineering professionals, hopefully those kids will be inspired to pursue and engineering career.”
Hunter owns Engineering for Kids alongside his wife, Tayndra. She says she opened Engineering for Kids of Kern in 2014 because she felt there was an unmet need here in Bakersfield.
"Very seldom do kids get the chance to really problem-solve in school because their focus is more on the math, the English, the reading," said Tayndra Hunter. "This gives them the opportunity to really expand and build upon their skills and build that confidence in them that they can achieve and actually create and design and building things."
Hunter says she hopes the program will maximize their students' imaginations by creating an environment where they can grow as young engineers. Part of the purpose of this program, according to Hunter, is to teach kids about the different career paths STEM offers in order to build their confidence early and choose to pursue a career in engineering long-term.
Engineering professionals are becoming more vital to the functioning of Americans’ increasingly tech-facilitated lifestyles, but according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, between 2016 and 2026 there has been and will be a 6+ million shortfall in the number of engineers we have as opposed to the number we need. That makes programs like Engineering for Kids all the more important.
Students at Engineering for Kids of Kern start their classes by programming robots on iPads, then taking those ‘bots to the competition set to test out their code. Afterward, they sped the rest of the class planning and problem-solving.
Aguilar, who studied computer science at CSUB, says engineering can be a challenge for kids, so he wants to make sure his students know the benefits of each discipline.
“When you tell kids, ‘What is engineering?’ they say, ‘Oh, people who fix stuff. People who make stuff. People who make or build cars,’ and they never really think about computer science being that,” said Aguilar. “When I tell them what engineers do, what mechanical engineers do, that’s pretty much the same process that software engineers do. We just work on a computer.”
Bela says she has similar aspirations to Aguilar. She says coding and competition are some of her favorite parts of the classes, adding that she wants to develop games in the future. Her engineering interests range from robotics to aerospace to game development, and she says she hopes to create games like her favorites, Minecraft and Animal Crossing.
“I kind of want to become a game creator, and I really want to create my own robots, and too, in the future, help with something like spaceships or something like that,” said Bela, “because I think it’s really cool.”
Aguilar says making sure the kids have fun is the best way to make sure they continue to pursue a career in STEM.
“You can automate your stuff. You can make computer programs that sort files for you,” said Aguilar. “My main goal here is that if kids know how fun engineering is and the incredible things they can do, they’ll want to pursue more of it.
Engineering for Kids of Kern offers a variety of programs for all ages. For more information or to sign up for a class, visit the Engineering for Kids of Kern website.