H. Mike Shealey | Survival Guide: Perspectives from the field

H. Mike Shealey, Maryland Center for Career and Technology Studies

Perched on the Inner Harbor, the Baltimore Museum of Industry collects, preserves and interprets the city's industrial and technological history. Although the region's industrial business has faded somewhat, it remains a major U.S. port with a deep cultural history. The museum embraces the city's entire history.

H. Mike Shealey is passionate about the museum's mission, particularly its role in sparking an interest in children for math and science. He is director of the museum's Maryland Center for Career and Technology Education Studies. The center's mission is to support educators and the community in developing certified Career and Technology Education teachers and administrators.

One of the center's most popular programs is "Engineering Challenges," a series of competitive activities for students in grades 1-12. The activities range from building model cargo ships to designing a robot and are designed to introduce students to the engineer's role in today's society.

For Shealey, the competition is an important way to keep children interested in math and science. Shealey recently spoke with staff writer Doug Beizer about his work at the center and the museum's mission.

WT: How important is it for the U.S. economy to interest children in
subjects such as math, science and engineering?

Shealey: Getting kids interested in technology is the most fundamental thing we can do in this country to ensure its future as a world leader. You can have all the resources, but if you don't have people, you don't have anything. We need people who understand math, science, technology and the interface of those disciplines.

WT: What's the payoff for those who learn these subjects?

Shealey: We're hoping to make people technology-literate. Technology is really an understanding of systems, and the "Engineering Challenge" does just that. It's not designed to make little engineers; the reality is you are trying to get them to understand technology as a system for accomplishing something.

WT: Computers and software evolve at such a fast pace. In your experience, is that pace an issue that needs to be addressed?

Shealey: In the 1980s when we got the first Apple IIEs, we wanted to do some computer-controlled equipment work. Two students from Georgia [Institute of Technology] came here to show us their project: a computer controlling a drill boring holes in a plastic. We wanted to put the plastic on the drill press and have it move repeatedly. They came up with a positioning table and a cutter to make continuous cuts. That concept hasn't changed a whole lot; we still move over X and Y axes in industry. So building on old concepts is an effective means of progress.

WT: What are your favorite displays in the museum?

Shealey: My father worked for the Martin Company in the 1920s. An experimental plane project he worked on became my doorway to the museum. [The museum has] a display of the experimental seaplane my father worked on. The stories of people like him who are connected with this stuff are fascinating. This place is all about everyday people who do extraordinary things.

WT: There have been many missteps in computer product development over the years. Have similar missteps been made in industry?

Shealey: We have a whole collection of light bulbs near the entrance to the museum. There are a whole bunch of light bulbs that seem like neat technology to me but they didn't make it for whatever reason. It doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad product; it could have just been the wrong time or people just weren't ready for it.

WT: As manufacturing jobs move overseas, does industry still play an important role in the United States?

Shealey: It is different now, but yes, it's very important. Right now the museum is working with the Maryland Economic Development Department. They're looking at putting a gigantic ice cream plant in Laurel, Md., because there is a big dairy business nearby in Pennsylvania. There's a supply of butterfat; it makes sense to turn that into ice cream. So there are still opportunities today.

WT: What does the future look like for industry and technology in Baltimore?

Shealey: We still have a working shipyard next-door to the museum. Next to that is the Domino Sugar facility. And next to that is the Tide Point Waterfront Park where a lot of technology companies are based. So you've got a conglomeration of things that generate this synergy of inventiveness and creativity. That's been the hot thing about Baltimore from the beginning.

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