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Get with the Times, Barbie

Dec. 5, 2014
Despite one big-brand miss, today’s toys, books, movies, and more do an excellent job of promoting STEM interests and careers.

It’s the holidays—a time when all of us with little kids in our lives can choose a gift or gifts that promote science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). From one of the oldest and most popular toys—blocks—choices range from Tinker Toys to Erector sets, FM radio kits, the Ruminate or Goldiblox building sets, Snap Circuits, littleBits, Makey Makey, and more. Today, there is a growing number of wonderful toys, games, books, movies, and activities that promote STEM. In picture books alone, recent titles have included Rosie Revere, Engineer and The Most Magnificent Thing. Just make sure you avoid the Barbie book from 2010 titled Barbie: I Can Be A Computer Engineer.

Everyone knows that Barbie has been just about everything career-wise in her decades of existence (despite her impossible proportions and oddly angled feet). Having had rather rare professions, such as being an astronaut, it should be an easy leap for her to be an engineer. She is supposedly working to create a computer program in the book. But then she clarifies that she is “only creating the design ideas” because she’ll need “Steven’s and Brian’s help to turn it into a real game.” When she encounters problems in the process, she enlists the help of the two male programmers, who of course save the day.

Considering the book’s negative message, Mattel has pulled it from the shelves. But the company didn’t act in time to avoid bad press and, in this age of social media, quite a fun rebirth. Kathleen Tuite, a computer programmer and the daughter of Don Tuite (an editor on our sister publication, Electronic Design), created a website that allowed people to re-caption the book. Her “Feminist Hacker Barbie” has so far garnered thousands of captions. People then took to Twitter to promote the new versions or comment on them using the #FeministHackerBarbie hashtag, which makes them easy to find and enjoy.

Even though the technical community quickly engaged in correcting the book’s negative image, the fact is that many troubling stereotypes and attitudes still exist around girls—and kids in general—being “uncool” if they’re smart. Thankfully, that type of thinking should change as effort continues to be invested in getting children—and young girls in particular—into STEM fields. In specialized engineering fields like the microwave and RF arena, such efforts are key. After all, attracting that next generation of engineers is already proving a challenge.

So if you’re buying a present for a kid in your life, think about something that encourages STEM interests. Take a kid to see Big Hero 6— the new Disney movie that used the input of scientists, physicists, and engineers to tell its story. Most of all, talk to kids about what you do. Share your excitement and enthusiasm. Today’s kids are our future engineers. Given the right knowledge, experience, and passion, it’s impossible to fathom where they will take today’s technology. From all of us at Microwaves & RF, may you have a wonderful holiday and a healthy and happy New Year!

About the Author

Nancy Friedrich | Editor-in-Chief

Nancy Friedrich began her career in technical publishing in 1998. After a stint with sister publication Electronic Design as Chief Copy Editor, Nancy worked as Managing Editor of Embedded Systems Development. She then became a Technology Editor at Wireless Systems Design, an offshoot of Microwaves & RF. Nancy has called the microwave space “home” since 2005.

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