What are you watching? TV producers keep churning out the usual shows about cops, lawyers, doctors, and politicians. But sometimes a girl wants to settle in with a bowl of popcorn and some characters she can REALLY identify with. I'm talking scientists and engineers.
Sure, I could watch Discovery Channel-type documentaries. But I’m yearning for a smart, Sorkin-style drama, with fast-talking charismatic protagonists not all of whom are white males solving ripped-from-the-headlines problems thanks to their STEM knowledge and skills.
I may get my wish, because a contest to identify the next MacGyver is underway. And this time, Mac will be a woman.
TV Role Models Have the Power to Inspire
Viewers of a certain age may remember the original MacGyver, with his choppy blonde mullet: an inventive spy who hates guns and gets himself out of jams by engineering ad hoc tools. (Lifting a fallen I-beam using a knotted fire hose filled with water! Making an arc welder from a jumper cable, a generator, and two coins!)
Years before the show CSI sent thousands of kids off to college dead set on careers in forensic science, cool, resourceful Angus MacGyver inspired young people to pursue engineering careers. We know this because lots of them eventually wrote to the show’s creator, Lee Zlotoff, thanking him for giving them a role model.
It would be wonderful if all children had real scientists or engineers as role models in their lives. But TV heroes also have the power to inspire a generation, and with that reality in mind, a diverse group is sponsoring a competition to create the next MacGyver—a TV hero who will again inspire kids, and in particular, girls, to consider engineering careers.
The alliance behind the project includes the U.S. National Academy of Engineering (not usually known for producing prime-time TV); the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering, the MacGyver Foundation (yes, there is one! dedicated to supporting individuals and initiatives that improve people’s lives through non-violent self-reliance), and the original MacGyver producer, Zlotoff himself.
Woman Engineer Could Make for Riveting Drama
This past July, twelve semi-finalists made a pilgrimage to Beverly Hills to face a panel of judges and make their pitches in person. If you want to check out all 12 show pitches, they’re posted online. Personally, I liked “Kansas,” about an engineer working to create the first human settlement on Mars. What’s YOUR fave?
Five finalists were selected at the July event. Each will receive a $5,000 prize and the chance to be mentored by a seasoned TV producer as they write a pilot script.
I wish I’d known about this contest sooner. Here at EiE, we meet thousands of everyday heroes with stories that deserve to be told: endlessly inventive teachers who squeeze a shoestring budget to get the engineering supplies they need; stalwart educators who face down their darkest fears about teaching science and engineering to become skilled STEM teachers; plucky, persistent visionaries who launch new K – 12 engineering programs and make them grow and spread.
No word yet on whether one of the five finalists will actually go on to make a real TV show. But while we're waiting to see who the fictional Next MacGyver is (and what she can do with just a penknife and a paperclip), we’ll keep telling stories about real heros here!