By Joyce Peng
According to a recent research by the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 19 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering went to women in 2014, which was a 1 percent drop from 2004’s percentage. With this low percentage, what can be done to encourage more women and girls to enter the engineering field?
The National Academy of Engineering (NAE), The University of Southern California (USC) Viterbi School of Engineering, The MacGyver Foundation and Lee Zlotoff, among other partners, might provide an answer. Through their “Next MacGyver” competition, the partners invited people from all over the world to submit ideas for a TV show that centers on female engineers. The root behind the competition’s name comes from the late ‘80s TV show MacGyver, created by Zlotoff. In the show, secret agent Angus MacGyver uses engineering skills to solve problems.
Out of more than 2,000 concepts, 12 were chosen. The concept’s creators will present their ideas on June 28 at the Paley Center for Media in Los Angeles. Five of those 12 will be selected as winners. They will receive $5,000, be paired with two mentors (an experienced Hollywood producer and a distinguished engineer specific to the submission’s topic area) and use their cash prize to get their show made for television, a spokesperson for the competition said in an email.
Four of the 12 finalists are based in the Los Angeles area. Kristen Bobst of Marina Del Rey created the procedural drama show Doctor Tailor. The comedy show Imagineers is the product of Wesley Burger of Long Beach. Historical/steampunk show Ada and the Machine is created by Shanee Edwards of Culver City. Lastly, Miranda Sajdak of Los Angeles created the historical drama show Riveting0.
Sajdak is a screenwriter, director and producer. Having ran TV screenwriting contests in the past, Sajdak noticed 50 to 70 percent of contestants were men. She entered into the “Next MacGyver” competition to increase the percentage of women competing in TV screenwriting contests, and also because the idea of a female MacGyver seemed so fun and original.
Sajdak chose World War II as her show’s background because of her grandfather’s WWII service and her fascination with that era. The story centers on a local prom queen’s life after her fiancée is killed overseas. The protagonist decides to work as an engineer to help the war effort and to ensure such tragedies will not repeat again.
“Many WWII films primarily focus on what happens overseas during the war and liberating concentration camps,” Sajdak explained the reasoning behind the plotline. “We don’t hear stories about women on the home front.”
Sajdak made sure Riveting would inspire girls to get engaged in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), just like the 1992 movie A League of Their Own inspired her to be involved with movies.
“I knew that if it inspired me, it would inspire young girls,” she voiced. “[During the show’s development], I had to find a way to inspire girls using what worked for me.”
A way to do that is incorporating inspiring A League of Their Own elements into her show. One element is the female lead. Another is teamwork between women. In A League of Their Own, women worked as a baseball team to reach a common goal: win the World Series. In Riveting, the factories’ women collaborate to develop war airplanes and engines. A third element is female friendships. Sajdak noted that female friendships, despite common in real life, are rare in films and TV shows. Two exceptions are A League of Their Own and Riveting.
The female protagonist in Riveting is universally relatable. She has flaws and must deal with struggles in order to do her job efficiently. The explored themes of family, career, and romance are issues that women juggle with today as well as during the movie’s time period of 70 years ago.
“My experience is that if you see a positive representation of someone like yourself, it reminds you of you,” Sajdak said. “You become inspired by that person. Just look at the stats. After A League of Their Own, there was higher enrollment of girls in Little League. After Bend it Like Beckham, there was higher enrollment of girls in soccer. Films and TV can affect statistics, inspire women and change the world.”
Sajdak is looking forward to hear the other finalists’ pitches and to see all the richness and deftness of their work. But she said that her TV show’s dramatic tone and historical element are what sets it apart from the rest of the 11 TV show concepts.
For more information on the competition, visit www.thenextmacgyver.com.