Fernando Guarin: Educating Future Engineers

guarin_300x200“As a child, I was always curious to learn how things worked,” admits Fernando Guarin, 2016-2017 President-Elect for the IEEE Electron Devices Society (EDS). “I wondered, for instance, how it was possible to transmit voice or audio without wires. Later on, I watched my older brother build amplifiers and assemble HAM radios from kits when he was studying electrical engineering, so I followed in his footsteps.” It is no small coincidence that this early exposure to building devices influenced a desire later in life to educate others. Guarin, recipient of the 2014 IEEE Meritorious Achievement Award in Informal Education, awarded for his dedication to bringing the excitement of electronics engineering to high school students, describes his method as “reaching young minds with ‘hands-on’ activities that are fun, build self-esteem, and enhance confidence in their own abilities.”

Guarin earned his Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Columbia. Then, after graduation, he started working in Silicon Valley for National Semiconductor, and transferred with them to Tucson, Arizona, where he earned his MSEE from the University of Arizona. “After graduation, I joined IBM where I worked for 27 years; in 1993, I was selected by IBM for the Ph.D. resident work study program through a competitive program and was able to attend Columbia University where I earned my Ph.D. in electrical engineering.” Guarin found that work experience  very well complemented his academic studies, and in 2015, after retiring from IBM, joined Global Foundries where he is currently a Distinguished Member of Technical Staff working as the team leader for the 14nm SOI technology qualification.

Guarin states enthusiastically, “I am living proof of the tremendous influence that IEEE can have on a professional career! I was a student member during my undergraduate studies. I rejoined as a professional member during my MSEE studies, and have been a member for 28 years.” Guarin’s extensive history within the organization is something of which he is tremendously proud. He started volunteering at the local level at the Mid-Hudson Section’s EDS Chapter in New York’s Hudson Valley and eventually became Chapter chair. He then became regional editor for the EDS newsletter and continues, today, to be active in the IEEE Mid-Hudson Section. Guarin has also been very involved in EDS, completing a term as Secretary, and now serving as 2016-2017 EDS President-Elect.

One of Guarin’s proudest accomplishments with the organization, however, is the formation of the Engineers Demonstrating Science: an Engineer Teacher Connection (EDS-ETC) program, which grew out of outreach with local schools using simple snap circuits. “When former EDS President Renuka Jindal visited our Chapter in New York, he saw the potential to spread this outreach program to the whole world using our student and professional Chapters.” The program has primarily relied on the snap circuits offered by Elenco ™.

After conducting countless sessions with the program, Guarin reflects: “The strongest memories I have from the many sessions we have conducted are the children’s smiles, their sense of accomplishment when they make their circuits work. Many have said, ‘I thought I was not good at science, but now I have changed my mind.’ The most gratifying moments are when, at the end of the session, the children want to continue ‘playing’.”

This is the perfect model to attract children to a future in engineering — especially since it is the one that garnished interest for Guarin, initially. Says Guarin, “I have come to the realization that, as engineers, we have a huge marketing problem. Many bright minds get turned off before they can reach their full potential. We have to dispel the “nerd” myth and show that science and engineering really are a lot of fun — and, as an aside, one can make a very decent living while contributing to make the world better.” And it is extremely important to ensure a pipeline of future engineers. “The world needs more engineers and scientists to overcome the many problems we face today. Some of the most pressing problems are climate change, water shortages, pollution, and overcrowding of cities, to name a few.”

In order to solve this challenge, Guarin suggests the value of similar outreach. “It is easy to criticize and point out problems,” he says, “but the key question is, ‘What can you do to solve them?’.” Guarin’s advice is, “Become engaged with your local community, try to train the teachers and other grownups. Every person that flips a light switch should be able to understand the basic concept of an electrical circuit.”

Organizations like the IEEE can help, as well, by utilizing their global outreach. Says Guarin, “It is very powerful to have Chapters in every corner of the world. [The IEEE] has a wealth of trained engineers and practitioners that can easily transmit their knowledge. There is also the support structure and many initiatives like tryengineering.org and trynano.org, where they can access a wealth of materials, including lesson plans.” But there are also opportunities for improvement: “There should be a concerted effort at IEEE to better communicate. Every Society has its own education committee, but these committees don’t communicate across Societies. There should be a platform for doing so.” And with so many dedicated volunteers, like Guarin, this is an attainable goal to better ensure the future of engineering and its introduction to the next generation.

Volunteering is a serious commitment, but the resulting joy and satisfaction  are very rewarding. To find out more about the EDS-ETC outreach program, please visit http://eds.ieee.org/the-eds-etc-program.html.

Comments

  • I fully support Dr. Guarin’s approach. I recently purchased two Elenco Snap Circuit kits to use with my young grandson and another young family member to introduce them to the wonderful world of electronics and engineering. My own introduction to electronic engineering was through amateur radio.

  • Wow.. what a moving article. Mr. Guarin and I have similar paths as engineers, teachers and promoters of engineering technologies. I also worked for IBM, was selected for a higher degree and then took the IBM buy-out and went into teaching HS students, and then back into industry Mr. Guarin hit the nail on the head, exposure is missing. Many students don’t know or think they cannot be good at engineering. Yet, we must change that mind set and encourage new engineers as much as possible. Engineering branches out into many fields and with a little exposure, some excitement will motivate and Catapult students to continue and inspire others.
    My hats off to all engineers, we do not get the true exposure.

  • Fernando,
    That’s a great article, and I am honored to have worked with you these past 25+ years. Thanks for being a great ambassador for electrical engineering to the next generation. I’m sure your investment in STEM activities will pay great dividends…

    Thanks…Ed

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