In one of my benevolent moods, I decided to do something for E-week (Engineers Week) to spread awareness of Engineering among the unsuspecting school children in my area. This also serves as a good community outreach effort to bring visibility to our company and a chance do something to impress the office manager. My work wasn't really doing it.
Mikey, the co-worker, offered to help out with this initiative... and help he did. He got in touch with his buddy who happens to be a Math teacher at a High school in the Pittsburgh area and before I could even say ‘holditbuddyweneedtograsptheseriousnessofthis', he got us committed to give 7 presentations one single day! Sigh, another trauma teenagers have to face these days- Two geeks talking about how building roads could lead to salvation. Oh well, why not! It’s a good chance to get out of the office and interact with a bunch of kids and tell them how cool Engineering really is with a straight face.
Engineering in the United States is not as popular a career option as in India or even Bihar. Kids here want to make a career out of American Idol or selling hot dogs in the Soldier Field. Not a bad idea, if you ask me at 2 pm every working day. If you are a fireman or a nurse, the kids go,’ Awesome, that’s totally kewl!’ Engineers rank highly at number 23 only after Farmers and Priests in the “Professions of Very Great Prestige” poll of 2006. I should have taken Circumcision 101 and become a priest instead. The possiblities! (wait, I need to soak it in). Ok yeah, many engineering companies are concerned about the dearth of engineering enrollment in the recent years and the fact that there might be no one to fill my size 10 shoes. Anyway, all this will have to change. Can't let them get away with that smirk!
I laid out the presentation and Mikey deleted a few slides as his contribution! Next we discussed at length on what we ought to be wearing to make a false impression about Engineers. Football jersey and jeans to look cool or Armani suit and Prada Sunglasses to look well paid. Mikey decided to wear thick glasses and a tie. I took my drafter and a drawing board hoping to complement him.
We start our spiel, ‘How many of you want to be Engineers?’
In a Math class of 20, one hand would rise and the guy would feel almost guilty and quickly wave at the guy next to him. I embarked into the various ways we Engineers make life for the rest of the species worth living. They were quiet kids for the most part especially when they slept soundly without snoring. From managing to keep my fake American accent going and remembering what I had to speak, it suddenly seemed like a daunting task. I had to pick the most attentive student and focus all my energy on him to keep my morale high. So the poor kid had to keep nodding and smiling and raising his eyebrows like he was understanding what I meant by perceived social needs and commercial applications. I had given presentations before, but never to school kids, who were enjoying passing notes (probably on my hair style or the lack thereof). Nostalgia of my school days took over and I only felt immense pity for my teachers. Since it was 7 presentations back to back (with a lunch break), every word uttered after Presentation 4 better not be used against me.
Presentation 1: Phew, I remembered to whip out a joke on my last name. At least the Math teacher laughed.
Presentation 2: Did I crack the cheesy butterfly joke in this presentation or the previous one as it seemed quite fresh in my memory of actually saying it and not hearing anyone except Mikey snort. Skip.
Presentation 3: Darn, I finished 10 minutes earlier than the previous time. I must have missed out all the jokes. Shall I tell them all now in one go?
Presentation 4: Holy Macro! What is she wearing?! Oh shucks, it’s a He! I am too tired of repeating stuff. I can’t do this anymore. Mikey, please take over my slides too. I'll teach you how to be hilarious. Trip and fall.
Presentation 5: That joke just sucks. It’s too late. My sense of humor level has already been established and if one of their dad’s owns a Comedy Club in downtown Pittsburgh, I’ve lost my chances of a stand-up debut.
Presentation 6: One more to go. One more to go. I will survive. Teaching is not a career option for me. How monotonous. Teachers get paid only so much? What a pity!
Presentation 7: Oh wow! My bald-eagle joke was a hit. Why did I have to think about it in the last presentation? Oh wow! They laughed at the way I called Mikey a nerd. Should have used that one earlier too. Darn! It’s over just when I was making an impact on young impressionable minds.
Feedback was provided in the form of a few lines of what the students thought about the presentation. Even negative comments were encouraged. Almost every response in the feedback forms were very positive and seemed like our presentation did exactly what we had hoped it would. Like so- ‘After listening to the presentation, I have become more interested in getting a future in Engineering. I had no idea how interesting and rewarding this field could be. The stability and pay benefits are also very appealing.’
Or politely decline like so- It’s not really something I’m interested in, but if it was, I would totally be an Engineer.’
We felt on top of the world. It was like a feeling that every mother gets when her kid is found watching TV instead of doping. But still we were pissed that we didn't get any critisism. Do we look super sensitive or frail?
On our drive back, I was rummaging through the two hundred or odd feedback forms; I came across one that could be taken as constructive criticism. I read it aloud to Mikey- Engineering provides many opportunities and advancement in a wide range of fields for different people. Their presentation was great, but it seemed like they would cut each other off when talking.
Mikey- Did he really say that?
Me- Yes apparently we both like to talk a lot.
Mikey- Come on! It was meant to be like that!!! We wanted it to be informal… like a conversation between two people.
Me- True. Or maybe this kid was in the fourth period when I wasn’t facing you and didn’t know when you were talking. Remember the weird set up.
Mikey- Whatever, but we didn’t cut each other off! That’s ridiculous! I would...
Me (cutting him off)- Here’s this kid’s handwriting. Maybe you could get your buddy to find out who he is. It’s not like they were paying us to do this that we need to get some juvenile rudely lashing out on us like that. Secondly, if we were to...
Mikey (cutting me off)- Ingrates! No appreciation for bailing them out of Math class! Dipshits!
...and so we agonized about that single comment till destination.