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Study: Ability to invent inspires engineers

A new survey aims to dispel stereotypes about engineers, emphasizing that most decided to enter their professions "to invent and discover."

Uncreative, unambitious nerds are people who only pine for pocket protectors and don't care about the outside world? Hardly.

A new survey aims to dispel stereotypes about engineers and others who work in technological or scientific fields, emphasizing that most decided to enter their professions "to invent, design and discover."

The survey from a scientific-software company explains that most engineers are highly creative, entrepreneurial types with a desire to change the world--or at least some small corner of it.

According to an annual questionnaire from Boston-based MathSoft Engineering & Education, 59 percent of 1,200 engineers polled said they knew before the 10th grade what they wanted to do. Three out of four people said they picked engineering because of their affinity for math and science--and because they wanted to "innovate and explore new approaches to everyday actions."

MathSoft coordinated the survey with National Engineering Week, which runs Feb. 17 to 23. MathSoft, which develops math, science, engineering and educational software, conducted a controversial survey last year concluding that the technology industry's high attrition rate is due to a lack of math skills.

The survey raised eyebrows for critiquing the U.S. education system and alleging that it did not produce enough engineers to meet the demand of corporate America. Many anti-immigration advocates say the United States produces a sufficient amount of engineers but that corporations rely on skilled foreign workers imported through H-1B visas to lower pay scales and save money on more expensive American workers.

Although MathSoft picked a far less controversial topic this year, high turnover among engineers and many executives' assertions that the United States suffers a dearth of qualified engineers remains a major topic of concern.

"While an old Barbie might bleat, 'Math is hard,' the bottom line is that math illiteracy really isn't hip and we need to find a way to motivate kids," according to a statement released Tuesday from MathSoft. "Is encouraging design and invention the key? Maybe Edison is a better role model than Einstein."