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Assembling a New Generation of Engineers

The Next MacGyver is looking to create a show centered on females in engineering.

Think you could diffuse a bomb with putty, duct tape, nail clippers and some rope? Even if you couldn’t, you might remember a TV character who could — Angus MacGyver. Every week, the engineer-turned-spy found himself in a similar situation, but somehow managed to save everyone with the random items around him.

But the show has expanded to much more than ‘80s action music and explosions — it’s also the inspiration for a new contest aimed at getting women involved in STEM careers. “The Next MacGyver” is an opportunity for contestants to write the pilot of a show starring a female engineer.

Even though MacGyver is serving as a point of reference for applicants, the contest is promoting diverse submissions — this means that the next generation could be watching a show that is a drama, sci-fi or comedy that promotes the engineering profession and the problem-solving skills it utilizes.

“I literally could not tell you how many times people have come up to me and said, ‘I became an engineer, or I went into the sciences because of ‘MacGyver,’” says Lee Zlotoff, the show’s creator. It’s this same sentiment that is behind the contest. Not only is the collaboration hoping to get more girls involved in STEM careers, it’s also hoping to change how society thinks of engineering.

“In society and popular culture, the perception of engineering is a little warped,” says Yannis C. Yortsos, dean of the Viterbi School of Engineering at USC. “We think now is the time and opportunity to change that.“ He adds that there have been similar ideas and some outreach in the past, but this partnership between academia and Hollywood is going forward with a more holistic approach.

The importance of getting more of the population — girls and guys alike — involved in engineering, according to Yortsos, is ensuring that we as a society are ready for the future. “When you look now at engineering, technology and science, it is evolving at a very exponential pace. When you look around, you notice that our future, economic opportunities and quality of life and solving important problems will come from science and engineering. Societies that do not recognize that will be left behind,” he says.

To be considered, applicants were asked to submit the following materials:

  • Title and genre of proposed TV series
  • Logline
  • One-paragraph synopsis of pilot episode
  • Name and brief description of female protagonist(s)
  • One-liners of future episodes
It was also required that engineering be a central element to the show that would be marketed to a middle or high school audience.

The top five winners will be awarded $5,000 and be paired with industry and engineering mentors to polish and execute their individual ideas. But, before those five are decided, 12 finalists will compete this summer.

The contest is being sponsored by several science and engineering organizations, including The National Academy of Engineering, The MacGyver Foundation and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

Below you’ll find a video about the contest.

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About the Author

Jess Lulka's avatar
Jess Lulka

Jess Lulka is a former associate editor for Digital Engineering. Contact her via [email protected].

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