ENGINEERING THE FUTURE
TV personality, engineer and educational program founder Deanne Bell is designing a bright future
Deanne Bell plays a lot of roles that, at first glance, don’t seem to go together. She’s a mechanical engineer, television host of CNBC’s “Make Me a Millionaire Inventor” and the founder of Future Engineers, a dynamic organization designed to engage students with national innovation challenges.
For the vibrant Virginia-Highland resident, making all of those interests work together was just another exercise in problem solving.
“I didn’t fit in a box,” the statuesque 37-year-old says with a smile, “so I had to build it myself.” Here, Bell shares how she’s applied that same spirit of optimism and ingenuity to craft her own science dream.
When did you know you were interested in science?
I grew up in Palm Bay, Florida, where I was able to see the space shuttle go off from my backyard. When I was little, I loved to tinker, invent and build. I had a group of friends, mostly girls, and we used what little bit of money we had to go to thrift stores. We’d buy broken down appliances, basically junk, take them all apart and put them together in fun and inventive ways. Then in middle school, I really started to think I wanted to be an inventor.
Hollywood and engineering seems like a unique pairing.
I knew I wanted to apply my engineering degree in a creative way. My first job out of college was in the aerospace industry in L.A., and I saw there weren’t many women in science on TV. Fast forward: I went backpacking around the world, and I kept thinking I wanted to work in science and TV. I was in the Philippines when I saw a job posting for a TV show in Boston looking for a mechanical engineer. I flew to Boston and got the job.
Did the same sense of adventure that prompted you to travel also shape your career path?
Most definitely. It took a lot of guts to go on that trip solo. It put me in a state of mind where I was willing to create my own adventure, take risks and forge a career that didn’t exist.
The same seems true about starting Future Engineers.
Yes! As an entrepreneur, starting Future Engineers took a lot of grit, perseverance and optimism.
What inspired you to create it?
I was a television host, but I thought, “I’m also an educator, teaching on a very large scale.” In my spare time I also do after-school workshops or speak at student STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) Education Coalition events. I was passionate about promoting science, technology, engineering and math education, and I’d been simmering on the idea to take that experience to a new level. I launched Future Engineers in 2014 as an online platform that issues national design and innovation challenges for [students in] kindergarten through 12th grade.
You’ve partnered with some pretty big science organizations, haven’t you?
We’ve launched challenges with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and NASA related to 3D printing and space.
What do you hope the future of the organization holds?
The vision is to start working with companies of all sizes to highlight the different kinds of technology and research. I’m a big believer in turning your ideas into reality, and engineers do that every day.
STORY: Jennifer Bradley Franklin
Photo: M. Larsson