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Competing With or Capitalizing On Pop Culture

How do we try to encourage students to do computer science or engineering? How much does pop culture play into it? Does it hurt it? Can it help?

I recently found out that Mattel released a new Barbie - Computer Engineer Barbie:

http://www.chipchick.com/2010/02/computer-engineer-barbie.html

I've never been into Barbie dolls, but I found it interesting. Would girls having (or even knowing there exists) a Computer Engineer Barbie help encourage more girls to get interested in the field? At least it brings awareness to the field. They'll know it exists. That's a start and maybe a huge one.

We need to have more examples out there for girls and boys to see. Back in the 1980s there was a show called Knight Rider featuring a car (named K.I.T.T.). The car came complete with a talking onboard computer capable of controlling every aspect of the car, with or without the driver's help. I have always wanted to have a car like K.I.T.T. New in-car technologies such as GPSs, self-parking, and emergency activated satellite tracking and calling are getting us closer to my dream car, but we are not quite there yet.

The other wonderful element of Knight Rider was that the person in charge of it was an amazing, intelligent engineer AND a woman. It was the first time I had heard of the term "computer engineer." They showed her working to solve problems and create features in a tangible way. Programming and engineering at its finest.

It is important to meet students where they are and their point of reference. Having students meet and shadow real computer scientists and engineers is great, but this is not possible for many students.
So we need to highlight and emphasize these examples we see in the media (movies, television shows, etc.). They may not be perfect, but at least students can recognize them.

Barbie might not be showing what a computer engineer does, but at least she seems to be thinking about something besides marrying Ken. Perhaps Engineering Barbie can peak student interest and get a discussion going. Here's hoping!

Shirley Miranda
CSTA Board of Directors

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