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We Need a Female Engineer Hero

“The Next MacGyver” project enlists top Hollywood producers to help inspire the next generation of women to engineering

February 24, 2015 —
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At "The Next MacGyver" Press Conference: National Academy of Engineering member Ruth David, producer Lori McCreary, CSI creator Anthony Zuiker, MacGyver creator Lee Zlotoff, moderator Mario Armstrong, White House U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith and USC Viterbi administrator Adam Smith, from left (Photo/Risdon Photography)

Women compose just 37% of prime-time TV characters, and according to a study by USC Professor Stacy Smith, just 21.1% of characters in science and technology careers are women. A female engineer character is the most rare of them all. 

To bridge this gap in representation, the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), in collaboration with Lee Zlotoff, creator of the TV series "MacGyver," are launching a worldwide crowdsourcing competition, called “The Next MacGyver.” Sponsored by the United Engineering Foundation (UEF), the project is seeking ideas for a scripted television show featuring a female engineer character in a leading role.

Five winners will have a rare opportunity to be paired with top Hollywood mentors who will help them develop the main character and an engaging pilot script. The goal is to develop viable concept packages for pitching to a network or distributor, and create a historic TV series that inspires young women to consider pursuing engineering.

“We could not be more pleased to have some of Hollywood’s top talent donating their time to help develop compelling women engineer characters and, hopefully, bring them to life on screen,” said NAE president C. D. Mote, Jr.

The hugely successful "MacGyver" series, launched 30 years ago, followed the adventures of fictional government agent Angus MacGyver who resourcefully used his engineering skills to solve problems in each episode.

“I literally could not tell you how many times people have come up to me and said ‘I became an engineer, or I went into the sciences, because of MacGyver,’” said Zlotoff.

MacGyver (1985-1992)

A recent report by the National Student Clearinghouse showed a decrease in the number of U.S. women pursuing engineering bachelor degrees between 2004-2014, to just 19%. President Obama recently remarked, “When you see an engineer or a tech person on a TV show or movies, something like 90-percent of them are male. So if you never see you in that position, it’s hard to imagine, well, that’s something I should be doing.”

“The new face of engineering is not that of Dilbert in the cartoons,” added USC Viterbi dean Yannis C. Yortsos. “It is the face of bright women and men, spanning societal, racial and ethnic divides. In this view, diversity is not a political slogan, it is an essential ingredient for innovation.”

The mentors for the finalists include Clayton Krueger, SVP of Television, Scott Free Productions (“3001: The Final Odyssey”); Lori McCreary, CEO and founder, Revelations Entertainment (“Madam Secretary,” “Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman”); Roberto Orci, writer/producer (“Star Trek,” “Scorpion,” “Sleepy Hollow,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Fringe”); and Anthony Zuiker, creator (“CSI” franchise including the soon-to-be launched “CSI:Cyber”).

More details about the contest and rules for entering can be found at www.thenextmacgyver.com.