Top 10 Engineering Role Models

Sources for STEM inspiration.

A role model is someone who the public (and in particular, the youth) admires, and who inspires them towards a particular pathin life.

One engineer can change the world far more than an athlete, an actor or a musician can, so we should indeed draw our inspiration from these great people and encourage our children to be more like these pioneers.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top 10 engineering role models:

10) Hedy Lamarr

Despite semi-trashing actors in the opening paragraph, our first entry is in fact an actress. Hailed as one of the prototype Hollywood sirens, the AustroHungarian born Hedy Lamarr is credited with being the mother of Wi-Fi due to her invention of a war time Secret Communications System (SCS). The SCS contributed to the development of Spread Spectrum Technology, which in turn later formed the basis of cellular phone technology, Wi-Fi and fax machines. She is regarded as one of the most influential inventors in the 20th century.

Films have a certain place in a certain time period. Technology is forever.

9) Werner von Braun

Much of the history of Werner von Braun is shrouded in mystery, due to the possible rewriting of his own past as part of a de-Nazification process conducted by the US after his surrender. One thing is for sure: this guy loved rockets, and without his work on the V2 rocket and role as Director of NASA, the US would not have put a man on the moon when they did. Why is he a role model? It’s because of the fact that his aspirations transcended national boundaries; he just wanted to build rockets. Such single-minded devotion to a cause is an admirable trait.

The best computer is a man, and it’s the only one that can be mass-produced by unskilled labor.”

8) Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Brunel was the archetypal Victorian engineer and changed the state of transport and civil engineering in Great Britain forever. He is remembered as a somewhat gruff and moody person who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in order to achieve his vision. Brunel is a prime example of how vision and a relentless can-do attitude separate ordinary engineers from legends.

“I am going to design… a station after my own fancy that is, with engineering roofs, etc.”

7) Valentina Tereshkova

From humble beginnings, born to a farmer and a textile worker, Valentina Tereshkova developed a love of parachuting which contributed to her selection as the first female space traveller (predating American Sally Ride by two decades). She went on to earn her engineering doctorate and pursued a career in politics as a hero of the Soviet Union.

If women can be railroad workers in Russia, why can’t they fly in space?

6) Steve Wozniak

Everyone loves Steve Jobs, but who would Jobs be without Steve Wozniak? Electrical engineer “Woz” single-handedly designed and developed the Apple I and was the primary designer of the Apple II. Jobs just put it into a pretty case and sold it. Wozniak didn’t care about money, he just wanted to build awesome computers, though he has earned a fortune on the way.

The moral of this story? Let passion guide you…the money will follow.

“I had a TV set and a typewriter and that made me think a computer should be laid out like a typewriter with a video screen.”

5) A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

From his beginnings as a fairly average student, to being hired as Project Director of India’s first Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-III) at ISRO, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam eventually rose to become India’s 11th President. If there is one lesson we can learn from this aerospace engineer/physicist, it’s this:

Academic grades can open many doors, but only hard work will take you to the top.

Look at the sky. We are not alone. The whole universe is friendly to us and conspires only to give the best to those who dream and work.”

4) Archimedes

Archimedes of Syracuse is known for his many inventions and discoveries, ranging from the block and tackle pulley to a parabolic mirror death-ray. What makes him a great role model? His dedication to the pursuit of knowledge was so strong that he didn’t even allow the threat of death to distract him from his research.

According to Plutarch, a Roman soldier was sent to capture Archimedes during the siege of Syracuse. The Roman soldier found Archimedes working on a mathematical diagram and insisted that Archimedes accompany him to meet Marcus (the Roman general who was leading the siege). Archimedes was so engrossed in his own work that he casually dismissed the soldier. The soldier became enraged and murdered Archimedes with his sword on the spot. Everyone should aspire to this level of focus.


3) Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci is often hailed as one of the greatest engineers of all time, but that is not why he is on this list. It was Da Vinci’s interest and expertise in many fields including anatomy, painting, music and flight which all contributed to his reputation of the quintessential Renaissance man; the universal genius. 

According to Robert Heinlein, “specialization is for insects.” This is even truer today, when engineers must be proficient in a growing number of domains like da Vinci was during his time.

If there is a role model representing the physical incarnation of curiosity, it is surely da Vinci.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

2)  Elon Musk

Musk seems to be universally loved and loathed in equal measure. ULA despise him, and according to Musk, the Russians probably want him dead… One thing is for certain: every time he announces a new project, people take notice. He is the living embodiment of both Edison and Tesla, possessing the vision of Tesla and the business acumen of Edison. Add to that mix a little Tony Stark swagger, and you have one of the boldest engineers and entrepreneurs of the 21st century. Love him or hate him, everyone admires him.

“It’s OK to have your eggs in one basket as long as you control what happens to that basket.”

1) Neil Armstrong

Humility, integrity, honour and incredible courage.

Aeronautical engineer and test pilot Neil Armstrong embodied all of those characteristics.We all wish we were as awesome as he was, though few of us will likely ever come as close.

You can invent a new mode of transportation, you can design a better computer or you can try become the best engineer around.

But you’ll never be the first human being to step onto another world. That achievement has already been accomplished.

That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”

So there you have it. 10 great role models whose names will inspire many generations to come. Do you agree with the list? Is someone missing? Let us know in the comments below.