Tucson's largest private employer has a huge interest in trying to get more children interested in the engineering business.
Raytheon Missile Systems holds events all year to encourage young people to pursue engineering degrees, but to celebrate National Engineers Week, the defense contractor held an event called "Engineering Is Awesome" on Monday.
Programs like this at Raytheon's Tucson plant are considered essential to our country's future.
About 100 high school students from Tucson, Morenci and Benson got a hands-on experience and the opportunity to talk with Raytheon engineers about their careers and what it took to get there.
The students were at Raytheon for the tour, and a little career guidance.
"A chance to learn more, to expand my education and to like see what's out there," explains Palo Verde High School Sophomore Adrian Caldera when he's asked why he wanted to go to Raytheon.
Raytheon is southern Arizona's largest civilian employer with 11,000 employees.
4,000 of them are engineers.
However, even as the need to fill high-tech jobs grows, the United States is falling behind in the number of students studying math, science and engineering.
Raytheon is aware of that.
As a defense contractor, it can hire only United States citizens, so it encourages young students to pursue engineering degrees.
And they mean young.
For Raytheon and other high-tech companies, kindergarten is not too early.
The very young are taught simple lessons.
What is technology?
What is an engineer?
"An engineer isn't just somebody who drives a train. An engineer is someone who actually takes and applies science to solve problems. Everybody's an engineer and when kids start to see those connections, and start to see the pathways for how they get there in the future, they'll get excited about it," says Raytheon Missile Systems Community Relations Director Colleen Niccum.
The students who visited Raytheon Monday already have an interest in math and science.
Many of them are taking an college engineering course for credit from the University of Arizona.
Niccum says Raytheon, company-wide, recruits more students from the UA than from any other university in the country.
Raytheon's future rests with students like these.
Some of the visiting students have been on this track for a very long time, hoping for a job at Raytheon.
In fact, some have set their sights high.
Saguaro High School senior Kyel Powell says he wants to be Raytheon's CEO someday.
He certainly has a plan.
"Kind of like a top executive and all that stuff, but--two--help the nation defend itself. And help our soldiers be better equipped and our nation be better protected against foreign threats and stuff. This is really important to me," Powell says.
It was not difficult to notice there are many more boys than girls in the group.
There's a push at universities and companies, like Raytheon, to inspire girls to see that engineering might be for them.
"Engineering is an innovative way to help other people in society. And in that way I want to introduce this to younger generations because when I was a kid, I really didn't know what an engineer was," says University High School Senior Jelissa Ruiz who is very interested in seeing what engineering has to offer.
"It is definitely an issue that we're concerned about. And we want to see a lot of diversity, not only in terms of male and female diversity, but ethnic diversity as well, Niccum says. "We know that a really diverse workforce leads to really innovative solutions because everybody comes with different ideas and experiences that really result in a better product in the end."
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