Toy Selections Important To Help Kids Find Career Interests
by Judy Long
Christmas is a good time to take note of your children's aptitudes and plan gifts that stimulate their desire to learn. Dr. Ian Gravagne, Baylor University assistant professor of electrical engineering, whose research interests include robotics and mechatronics, credits his hours of creative play as a child with Legos for starting him on his career path.
"I credit my childhood musings with helping me develop good spatial reasoning and a firm grasp for the principles that make things work. Successful engineers still need those abilities," he said. He still has his entire collection of Legos and even uses them in the classroom as a teaching tool.
Gravagne said some children prefer to focus on the civil engineering aspect of Legos, constructing buildings, bridges or even small towns, but his interests inclined more toward Legos with moving parts such as axles, wheels, gears and motors.
"Some of the items I built were cars with steering, independent suspensions, and manual transmissions; lots of contraptions to fling projectiles (my poor mother); a stair-climbing robot; and functional Lego models of the Transformers cartoon characters.
Gravagne reminisced that one of his most memorable machines was a model cable-car system. "Growing up near Albuquerque, I was able to observe up-close the workings of the Sandia Peak Tramway. My version had two tram cars suspended on strings that descended from a second-story window to the ground outside. The winch had a transmission system that could change speeds using a solenoid and sensors to determine how close the tram cars were to the dock. On approach, a computer would shift the transmission to a low gear to slow down the speed of the cars."
Whether Gravagne's childhood precocity was entirely due to wise toy selection is debatable, but parental guidance certainly helped in his development as an engineer. Thoughtful selections can help any child advance toward rewarding adult pursuits. Gravagne hopes more children will have a chance to enjoy the sort of play he did.
For more information, e-mail Gravagne at Ian_Gravagne@baylor.edu or call (254) 710-7303.