How OXO Gets Kids Excited About Engineering
Words Amalia Safran
Here at OXO, we have a strong tradition of teaching middle and high school students all about product engineering because, well, we think what we do each day is pretty awesome and we want to share it! We love getting the younger generation excited about solving everyday pet peeves around the house so they can come and join our team later on.
Many people think engineering is all about math and science—complicated equations and complex science stuff, but we like to show young students it’s so much more than that. Engineering can be accessible, and dare I say it, even cool? (Look how cool cycle testing can be!) It’s a field that kids don’t often get exposed to so we’re giving them a little taste of it.
During the World Science Festival, a week-long science festival in New York City that takes place every year, OXO engineers Dan and Noah hosted 3rd through 5th graders in the office to teach them about product design and introduce them to the world of product engineering. Product engineering, or at least the kind we do, can be fairly approachable for students because they most likely have seen an OXO product or something similar in their kitchens, or at the very least, are familiar with the problems we’re trying to solve.
This year, the kids learned about user experiences—something OXOnians are constantly studying when we’re thinking about designing new products. The students were given pencils and tasked to think through ways people interact with them. They discovered they can be slippery and uncomfortable, and then brainstormed ideas on how to improve upon the user experience. Using two pieces of silicone and molds, the students made pencil grips to solve those irritating problems.
The students also learned about ergonomics, which OXO engineers are always thinking about since we design products that are usable by everyone. The students were tasked with designing handle grips (inspired by our Good Grips handles) for peelers. They started with a rectangular piece of styrofoam and sketched out what they thought would be the most comfortable for people peeling a fruit or vegetable. The students then carved out the foam (with adult supervision, of course!) to make an ergonomic handle.
Dan and Noah wanted the kids to learn there’s also a level of creativity that goes into designing products that’s often not realized, which the students got to experience when they designed the handles. Product engineering can be creative because you get to look at all the approaches to solving a problem.
Another instance we worked with kids was when OXO engineer Becca taught a class of 7th and 8th grade students during a Women in Science and Engineering program. Becca brought the girls spaghetti, marshmallows, hard-boiled eggs, cilantro, and apples. They played with the foods, pretending to prep, serve and eat them, noting where they ran into any problems—like how do you slice an apple to avoid the core? Or how do you chop up herbs?
This thought process is similar to how OXO engineers think about pet peeves in everyday life. How do you prepare pour-over coffee without having to stand over it for a long time? How do you make produce stay fresh longer so you have a chance to use all of it? The students then sketched solutions to the problems they ran into and built prototypes.
“Most of the girls didn’t want to use the cilantro because they thought it was weird, but one Indian girl volunteered her group to take it. They ended up inventing a device to chop up the stems rather than the leaves (which I had expected) because Indian cooking uses a lot of cilantro roots and stems. It was definitely not something I would have considered for an herb tool until I saw that,” explained Becca, who learned something new herself.
OXOnians believe it’s important to teach young students about what we do and gain a deeper understanding of how things are made so they can be inspired to work in the field in the future. Though some of the engineers might be math and science lovers/nerds, they’re most interested in creating innovative products to help with everyday tasks.
Interested in doing a kid-friendly engineering project at home? Here’s one of our favorites. It gets kids thinking about structures, shapes, and how different materials work together—and is easy and great for younger kids too:
1 Box of Spaghetti
1 Bag of Marshmallows
Use the marshmallows to connect pieces of spaghetti to create a structure. See what shapes you can make and how tall the tower can get without tumbling over.