01/13/2014 06:52 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

STEM Needs A New Letter

My father, a retired industrial designer, claims that the seeds of his career were sown during the hundreds of hours he spent building soapbox derby cars with his dad. My grandfather taught his sons every step of building a car in their pursuit of a national soapbox derby championship. By the time they qualified–my uncle Steve in 1957 and my father in 1959–they were skilled in every aspect of design and construction. My father describes their hours of work together as some of the most enjoyable and rewarding of his life:

Dad taught me that a methodology could be applied to any creative task. Ideas could be developed, finalized, and evaluated following a set of logical steps, and he taught me to sketch ideas, make construction drawings, and evaluate concept models. The build required me to master skills and develop an understanding of materials. Dad taught me to work with wood, metal, and plastics, and I learned how to weld, solder, machine metal and wood, upholster, and paint. I completed these tasks under his watchful eye, until I had mastered the tools and the process.