9/1/2015 2 Comments
By Heather Burkhart
One of the leading challenges among the STEM community is the subject of alluring the masses to the enthralling world of science. Deanne Bell, co-host of the television show “Make Me a Millionaire Inventor” and founder of Future Engineers has accepted that challenge with an unrivalled confidence and the capacity to back it up. With a background in mechanical engineering and public speaking, Deanne has what it takes to get students pumped up about building, and eager to get creating.
From an early age, Deanne was a tinkerer. She would spend hours in her backyard building things out of motors she had salvaged from thrift store items and materials purchased from hardware stores. Many of her imaginative mechanisms were concocted for Odyssey of the Mind competitions, where Deanne and her group would listen to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack repeatedly while using power tools and sewing costumes. “I told my parents I wanted to put a band saw on my wedding registry one day.” As a junior in high school, Deanne knew that she could continue building and creating professionally, and decided to pursue a degree in mechanical engineering.
Deanne loved college. She filled her schedule with every possible extra-curricular activity. “Sports. Check. Student Government. Check. Volunteer in the community. Check. Residential Advisor. Check. Dance until 3am at bars on the weekend. Check. Sleep Deprived. Check.” But it wasn’t without a small dose of doubt, what she calls her “mid-college crisis.” Not sure if engineering was the path that would forever allow her imagination to run carefree, Deanne minored in architecture and began to question her previous convictions. Thankfully, she had a couple engineering mentors who helped her through this hurdle. “First, they encouraged me that the tech industry would be a place where I would thrive, and reminded me that I’m learning tools in college that I will use later on to create even bigger and better things. Secondly, they embraced my unique engineering ambitions and encouraged me to go after my wildest dream job, no matter how zany it may seem to others.”
After class one day, Deanne went to a recruiting event for free food and left with her first job. Working at Raytheon as an opto-mechanical engineer, she spent three years on a variety of projects, starting with a FLIR (forward looking infrared) program where she focused on packaging a FLIR into a helicopter-mounted gimbal. Deanne later moved to Massachusetts where she worked at a 3D CAD software startup as a senior application engineer. “I was a senior application engineer, which means I helped test, design, and sell the product from a mechanical engineering perspective. I traveled the world spreading the good word of CAD at companies, conferences, and trade shows.”
While in Massachusetts, Deanne also hosted her first television show, attributing her success to the confidence she developed as an engineer. “My TV career is one of those things that would have seemed unfathomable if I were to look forward as a teen, but when I look back it just makes sense. Just because I don’t work in a traditional engineering office anymore doesn’t mean I’m not still an engineer. My technical skillset has served me well on TV and in life in general. For me, the most important trait of a television host is confidence. That is something that takes time to develop, but I think engineering has given me the confidence I need to go in front of a camera and be in the public eye.”
Her enthusiasm as a television host has also helped her to develop herself as a public speaker, her audiences ranging from corporations to children. “One of the main reasons I chose to take the big leap towards TV hosting was because it suited me well. In a unique way, it tied together my diverse set of interests and skills into one position. But the main reason I choose to stay on television is because we need more women in tech in media. I really hope to co-host a show with another woman one day. The notion of being the token female TV host is long overdue to be shattered.”
As her most recent endeavor, Deanne started the education platform Future Engineers in 2014, which aims to develop and host national invention challenges for k-12 students. Partnered with organizations such as NASA and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Future Engineers provides tasks for kids to tackle, such as their first challenge, which was to design a tool for astronauts to 3D print on the International Space Station. The vision Deanne has for Future Engineers is that it will become an online hub of learning and providing engineering challenges of all kinds to students everywhere. “Encouraging students to pursue careers in STEM goes beyond teaching kids math and science in the classroom. There is a hefty dose of inspiration involved. If we can make science on TV interesting and appealing to the masses, then I can do that for STEM education too.”
Deanne suggests that other women considering engineering should “just dive in. Get your hands dirty – literally and figuratively. You’re never going to know everything, but you most definitely can develop the confidence, mindset, and skillsets you need to solve any challenge you face.”
And Deanne can prove it. There will always be people who will put forth effort on your behalf, to encourage and deepen your love and understanding of science, and to help you succeed in your own challenges. And through it all, you’ll find that Deanne will be one of them. “I will always extend my help to other women in their efforts to succeed, while also being a visible role model of a woman who is proud to be an engineer.”
Make Me A Millionaire Inventor airs on Wednesdays at 10pm ET/PT on CNBC
About the Author
Heather is an undergraduate student at the University of Utah earning her BA in linguistics and cognitive science with an interest in studying aphasia and other language properties of the brain. She has written articles for the online magazine NVate, and is currently an editor for The Scientista Foundation's Spotlight section. When she is not studying or writing in a cozy corner of her home, she is most likely away having an adventure in the beautiful mountain backgrounds of Utah.
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