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I Heart an Engineer

George WashingtonI’m excited. It’s as if the stars are aligned. It’s the confluence of three of my favorite holidays.

Friday is Valentine’s Day, the time to tell those you love how you feel. Monday is that national holiday celebrating our country’s presidents, and next week (Feb. 16-22) is National Engineers Week. In the spirit of such important occasions, I thought I’d write a valentine to my favorite engineer, a role model I’ve long respected and
admired . . . our first president, George Washington.

Old George (BTW, he doesn’t mind if I call him that, it’s a term of endearment) has long been a friend of mine. I have George to thank for putting me through college. He personally paid (part) of my tuition to Washington and Lee University. In 1796, through a gift of $20,000 (worth millions today) of James River Canal stock, George endowed a small school in Lexington, Virginia. The university legend says that the centuries-old investment continues to contribute just shy of $3 of each student’s fees for an outstanding liberal arts education.

But did you know George is credited (not often enough, if I do say so myself) as our nation’s “first” engineer? He trained as a (very) young man to be a surveyor, an early civil engineer, if you will.

At age 16, young George did just what we at Techbridge encourage our aspiring engineers to do, he “tinkered” around the house. George measured, plotted and sketched the turnip garden at his family homestead, Mount Vernon. (Should you want to admire the accomplishment, the Library of Congress has the treasure).

Though this drawing doesn’t show any erasures or corrections, I’m sure George worked through the very same thought process we coach our pre-teen and teenage Techbridge girls to do: identify a problem, brainstorm options, choose and design a solution, test it, redesign and repeat – the universal Engineering Design Process. The more George did it, the better problem-solver he became, and surely that logic “strength training” contributed to his later success.

George went on to do a great many other amazing accomplishments, but I’m afraid his budding engineering career gets lost amidst his military victories and visionary leadership. However in 1951, the National Society of Professional Engineers recognized an opportune time to celebrate all engineers would coincide with Old George’s birthday (the man collaborated on and contributed to the engineering of our nation, after all!), and they began National Engineers Week to always be celebrated around President’s Day.

This celebration has evolved over the decades to include Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day. The effort recognizes that galvanizing girls to help fill the nation’s deficit of engineers can’t happen just one day of the year, but every day through purposeful conversations, outreach and role model experiences. This is Techbridge’s daily work, and I’m proud to be a part of it.

Thank you, George. Is it too much to say “I love you?"

In honor of Old George, my favorite engineer, not only will I participate in Techbridge’s Engineers Week events to engage and inspire future engineers to make a difference in the world (see our plans and posts here) but I think I’ll sketch out my spring vegetable garden, and plan to plant some turnips, too. Doesn’t that old saying go, “From tiny turnips, mighty engineers grow?"

-- Megan Davis, a proud 1999 graduate of Washington and Lee University, is Program Manager of Girls Go Techbridge, a partnership with Girl Scout councils to bring hands-on engineering challenges to girls in grades 4-12.

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