Austin, TX—“We need Jennifer Garner to date an engineer. No, we need Jennifer Garner to be an engineer,” jokes Ray Algrem when asked about how to get more kids today interested in science and engineering.
And if he actually believed that writing an engineer into the script of Alias would work, Almgren would be on a plane to Hollywood tomorrow. As VP of Product Marketing and Academic Relations at NI, Almgren is channeling much of his energy into making science and engineering more accessible to kids today and encouraging them to pursue technical careers.
He has spearheaded the company’s many academic and university relations programs, including ROBOLAB, which combines LEGO Mindstorms with LabVIEW to introduce robotics and control to school kids. These days he is criss-crossing the country, meeting with academics, industry representatives, and government officials to deliver his urgent message: We need to fix engineering here in the U.S.
“We don’t have enough students going into engineering today. And for those that do, too many of them don’t have a chance to make it once they get there. They are simply not prepared. It’s ridiculous, for example, that advanced science and math courses are electives in schools today,” says Almgren.
Ray Almgren, VP of Product Marketing and Academic Relations at NI, wants Jennifer Garner to date an engineer.
But although he has concerns, Almgren expresses optimism about the future of engineering in the U.S. “I am seeing some incredibly positive signs that we are making progress,” says Almgren.
He points to the efforts of Bill Gates, for example. “The Gates Foundation is using a fair amount of money to influence legislators, and Congressmen are beginning to develop an understanding of the situation and that we need government support and involvement to get this thing fixed,” he says.
Almgren also cites the growing popularity of initiatives like the FIRST LEGO League, a program that introduces robotics to students at a young age. And he says that LEGO Mindstorms, with its LabVIEW graphical interface, has made programming more intuitive and accessible to high school and even college students. “For most kids, most adults for that matter, it would be impossible to get started with something like C++,”he says.
While it’s too early too tell, Almgren says that there is anecdotal evidence that suggests kids who participate in programs like the FIRST LEGO League retain an interest in science and math longer—hopefully leading to more students pursuing technical degrees in college.
While he’s busy traveling the country, Almgren’s efforts have also clearly made an impact at home, where he is busy raising three daughters. A friend recently asked Almgren’s nine-year-old what she wants to be when she grows up: “An engineer, sir,” she replied.