The Engineer’s Mindset: Playful Persistence in Problem Solving - DuPage Children's Museum

The Engineer’s Mindset: Playful Persistence in Problem Solving

January 26, 2022

The Engineer’s Mindset: Playful Persistence in Problem Solving

By: Alejandro Ramirez, CFO, Noble Network of Charter Schools

Once an engineer, always an engineer. As a recovering civil engineer now working in the seemingly dissimilar field of corporate finance, I still find myself thinking through problems at work from an engineer’s mindset (observe, question, try, fail, adjust, and try again). 

A few guiding questions serve as regular prompts: How do these two pieces fit together? What is the right sequence of steps here? Where can we optimize this process?

Thinking like an engineer has certainly helped me succeed at work. But an even more important skill has been embracing how to learn from mistakes, which we always make, and persisting through challenges to identify and make the necessary adjustments until things are right. That starts with thinking about what didn’t work (that’s the easy part), but also dusting ourselves off mentally (not always easy), so that we can try again.

Children are natural scientists; design thinking is what children do when they experiment. Through playful exploration and discovery, children learn to try, fail, try again, and finally succeed. They are learning important cognitive and emotional skills (like creativity, innovation, persistence, resiliency) that will serve them later in life. Learning is more than the intellectual challenge of figuring out how to stack the blocks on top of one another so they don’t fall; it’s also getting used to trying again when they do.  

Practice this with your children when they are building, baking/cooking, painting, etc. Encourage thinking about what didn’t work (that’s the easy part). Tap into those engineering questions:

  • If the pieces do not fit together, why not? 
  • Are these the correct materials? 
  • Do we need to add another step in the process? 
  • What if we tried…??? 

Sometimes children get discouraged when a project fails, but if we can help them see mistakes as an important and necessary part of the learning process, it becomes easier for them to dust off mentally to try again.

DuPage Children’s Museum offers children wonderful ways to think like an engineer. The new exhibition, The Questioneers. Read. Question. Think. PLAY! brings to life the world of Iggy Peck, Architect; Ada Twist, Scientist; Sofia Valdez, Future Prez; Rosie Revere, Engineer; and Aaron Slater, Illustrator. Inspired by characters who demonstrate curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration, the exhibit offers more than 50 different extraordinary experiences to discover and explore.

DuPage Children’s Museum exhibits and programs feature intersecting art, math and science experiences that engage children and their adults in a playful engineering mindset: observe, question, try, fail, adjust, and try again!


About Alejandro

Alejandro Ramirez relocated to Chicagoland in 2018 to assume the role of CFO for the Noble Network of Charter Schools. Once he settled in Naperville, his passion for education and service led him to join the DCM board of directors. 

Alejandro earned a BS in Civil Engineering and a Certificate in Financial Management in Medellin, Columbia. His academic talents led him to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he earned both an MS in Civil Engineering from M.I.T. and his MBA from the Sloan School of Management.

He humbly offers, “My background in professional financial management and knowledge of the education sector will help me to advance the Museum and the communities it currently serves. I support the Museum’s work to make inroads with low-income minority populations. I enjoy bringing my son to the Museum and want everyone to have access to the same quality learning experiences.”