Today at work, my friend Allie came for a visit. She’s twelve and this year is doing a project where she gets to spend some time with adults she looks up to and have new experiences related to their passions. I was honored to be asked to be one of these adult mentors (although, I generally hardly believe I’m considered an adult) and for our outing we decided she could come tour the lab and see what engineers do all day.
Unfortunately her first hour at work was spent eating a cafeteria lunch in my coworkers office while we discussed staffing plans for the upcoming year. I would have been bored out of my mind, but Allie took notes and even asked me about what we were doing afterwards.
After sitting through a dreary meeting I took her the Maker Space at the Lab. It’s an awesome room that has 3D printers, vinyl cutters, laser engravers, a mill, a lathe, a bandsaw, and loads of tools for projects, both personal and those for work. We spent some time first on the 3D printer. I had wanted to make a customized model with her, but I was having computer problems so we ended up spending some time browsing the Thingiverse website and looking for something we could print. Allie settled on this Harry Potter keychain and after just a few clicks, it was off and printing.
Now, if I was a good, responsible person, I would have taken a picture of Allie with her freshly printed 3D Harry Potter keychain. But, I’m not, so this is all you get. A screenshot of the page that Allie found with the files we used to print her keychain.
We also spent some time making some stickers on the vinyl cutter before heading down to explore the rest of the lab. We toured the machine shops and the test facilities where we hung out and had some discussions on my previous project (the Van Allen Probes) and future missions to Mars. At this point we’d spent nearly 5 hours talking about space and engineering and I could tell Allie was getting a little mentally exhausted (quite frankly, so was I).
I took Allie home and stayed for some dinner. We discussed our day together and much to my surprise, Allie retained EVERYTHING. She talked about my staffing meeting and she explained to her mother some of the discoveries the Van Allen Probes had made. She talked about some of the challenges that come with trying to plan a mission to Mars and even came up with some ideas on how to solve those problems. It was extremely impressive. Her mind just keeps going, despite all the high level technical talk. She’s such a wonderful, intelligent kid and it’s a privilege to be a part of her life.
I was unsure how this day was going to turn out. It wasn’t perfect and I don’t know that it has a life changing impact on Allie. I don’t know that she’s suddenly decided to be an engineer (I have an inkling that isn’t the case), but I do hope that I got to expose to a little bit more to what engineers do and the possibilities that are out there. Sometimes crazy things come out of stuff like this (like landing something on a comet) and I hope she took just a little of that away with her.