Wednesday, April 28, 2010

You’ve Come a Long Way, Barbie

Maybe Barbie and her manufacturer, Mattel, have caught wind of the news that math-based jobs are now considered sexy. Or maybe it’s that at 50 years old and having tried more than 120 other careers, Barbie is going for something a little more fulfilling than achieving the perfect Malibu tan. Whatever the reason, the latest version of the Barbie® I Can Be™ dolls is … wait for it … a computer engineer.

Perhaps even more interesting is how this latest iteration of the Barbie brand came to be. It seems Mattel ran a poll on its Website asking girls to vote for Barbie’s next career and, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, adult female computer engineers “launched a viral campaign on the Internet to get out the vote and ensure Barbie would join their ranks.” Talk about life imitating consumerism. The rallying cry that brought in the votes? “Help Barbie get her Geek on!”

This wasn’t just a whim or a Twitter phenomenon. Many heavy-hitting organizations backed the campaign, including the National Academy of Engineers and the Chicago-based Society of Women Engineers. It seems the industry as a whole is eager to recreate its image.

According to a follow-up WSJ article, despite the fact the computer engineering is a well-paid, fast growing career, only half as many women are graduating in the field today than did so 20 years ago. Ann Zimmerman wrote: “Other research suggests that young people in general, and especially girls, often don’t know exactly what a computer-science career entails.” Can a Barbie doll turn the tide and encourage young girls to pursue a career in math and science? Only time will tell.

For those of you who are interested in pushing for a Statistician Barbie or a Mathematician Barbie or maybe even a Marketing Research Barbie, you may want to contact the American Statistical Association to get a jump start on next year’s vote. In the meantime, if you’re more concerned with your own career outlook than Barbie’s, you should be feeling pretty good these days. According to 2010-2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment of mathematicians is expected to increase by 22 percent during the 2008–18 decade, which is much faster than average for all occupations.” We concur, and would be happy to talk to you about how to plan your next career move.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In the Swim of Things

Jay taking a dip in a saltwater oasis near the Libyan border.

Like many families with school-aged children, we recently returned from a spring break vacation. We needed a break from the long Chicago winter — a little bit of warmth and relaxation and, of course, some swimming.

What is it about swimming that makes kids so happy? It doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s an Olympic pool at a luxury resort, a small spring-fed lake in Wisconsin, or one of the great oceans of the world — if you can swim in it, my kids are in their element.

This trip, I chose to lounge by the pool as Jackson (12), Jay and Becky (14), and our Japanese exchange student Yuichi (17) splashed their way through our vacation. They are all good swimmers, so my main priority was to make sure they didn’t disturb the other guests. Watching them swim and play, I thought about the wonder of water and how water recreation is such a global phenomenon — for kids of all ages.

Those of you who know our family, know that we are seasoned travelers. After a four-year hiatus prompted by a very unpleasant plane ride when the twins were two and Jackson was an infant, my husband Doug and I were eager to hit the road again. And the kids are happy to tag along — as long as there is the promise of swimming.

Over the years, those swimming experiences have taken many turns. We have played in local public pools in Japan, where it was easy to spot my American children in a sea of black-haired Asian swimmers. We’ve been doused by a waterfall and a simultaneously drenching monsoon rain in Chang Mai, Thailand. Once, we jumped off a fishing boat into the muddy Amazon shortly after catching piranha, and we have even squeezed in a quick dip at the Heathrow airport hotel pool during a six-hour layover on our way to Africa.

In Egypt, we were forced to make a beeline for the pier after spotting a giant stingray while snorkeling at Sharm el Sheik. Still in Egypt, Becky and I were the only girls in sight jumping off the masonry edge of Cleopatra’s pool in Siwa, among several dozen school-aged boys, all taking a break from the 110° heat. While swimming in the Nile was discouraged, the kids spent every afternoon joyfully doing cannonballs into the cruise boat’s postage-stamp-sized pool. In Morocco, each riad (or courtyard home) had a beautiful pool, which I suspect were designed more for aesthetic purposes than natatory ones, but which provided us with a wonderful place to relax after a busy morning of touring. And closer to home, our northern Wisconsin farm has an 80-acre lake where no amount of algae bloom will prove too daunting to prevent my kids from taking the plunge.

Along the way, we’ve learned always to pack a swimsuit, because you never know when a perfect little swimming hole may present a temptation too great to resist. This year, our travel destination is Mongolia. We’re not sure how many swimming opportunities we’ll find, but we’ll be prepared. Like many of you, we’ve discovered the joys of swimming in global waters — both figuratively and literally. Have you dipped your toes into an exotic pool, or are you looking for ways to expand your horizons? We’re always interested in hearing about your goals and experiences.