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Who will be the next 'MacGyver'?

Posted at 2:59 PM, Mar 26, 2015

A global hunt for the next "MacGyver" has lofty aims — and big reward potential. 

The Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California has embraced the mission of inspiring women around the world to pursue engineering careers. 

The first step in that direction? 

A global crowdsourcing competition to identify and develop the first television show with a female engineer lead character to encourage women to envision themselves in this strong scientific role. And who better than the original mega-engineer/ spy "MacGyver" to inspire the contest?

Thirty years ago, "MacGyver" created interest around engineering with the exploits of Angus MacGyver, a spy who used his powers of engineering in every episode to solve problems.

“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,' ” Lee Zlotoff, the show's creator, stated on the contest website. 

In partnership with the National Academy of Engineering and Zlotoff, Viterbi is enlisting the help of Hollywood producers to create the show, intended to inspire the next generation of female engineers.

"We need to fix the image of engineers in popular culture," Viterbi Dean Yannis. C. Yortsos said. 

"The National Academy of Engineering is seeking to change the conversation — how do we change the conversation in the media and public culture to make it exciting, solve problems and present engineering as a fundamental opportunity to make a difference?"

Today women make up only 19 percent of engineering graduates. USC has nearly double the national average of female freshman entering engineering, with 10 of their USC Viterbi faculty named to MIT Technology Review’s “Top 35 Global Innovators Under 35,” six of whom are women.  

"We live in the knowledge that engineering can solve a lot of problems in many areas, such as security in cyberspace and even reverse-engineering the brain," Yortsos said. "We need a diverse workforce, women can play a huge role. We need to know what they think, to see the world from a different perspective that a white male-dominated world cannot see."

Think you can "out-MacGyver" MacGyver, or have a great idea for a TV pilot? The contest runs through April 17. Five winners will each receive $5,000 and the assistance of a Hollywood producer to develop their show.