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Can ‘The Next MacGyver’ change the conversation about female engineers?

With help from Hollywood mentors, five people will write scripts for a new series about the savvy problem solver

The Next MacGyver, engineering
Q Branch, Ada and the Machine, Riveting and Rule 702, clockwise from upper left, were among the winning concepts. (Photos/courtesy of USC VIterbi)

MacGyver’s back. And this time, no mullets were required.

As the curtain fell on “The Next MacGyver” competition in Beverly Hills on July 28, the yearlong contest organized by the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, the National Academy of Engineering and Lee Zlotoff, the creator of MacGyver, the long-running TV show about a resourceful engineer, earned a standing ovation.

“Across the nation, less than 20 percent of engineering students are women. This cannot continue,” USC Viterbi Dean Yannis C. Yortsos told the audience of studio executives, students and journalists. “We must change the conversation. The new face of engineering is not Dilbert of the cartoons. It’s the face of bright women and men, spanning societal, ethnic and racial divides.”

The competition had begun earlier this year with nearly 2,000 entrants vying to create a TV series about a female engineer. Twelve finalists took the stage at The Paley Center for Media, five winners took home duct tape — yes, that was the winning trophy — and the spirit of MacGyver took a new turn for the 21st century.

A monetary prize was also at stake — $5,000 for each winner. But the best part was the chance to see the writers’ female engineers come to life on the screen. For good measure, the winners were paired with a successful TV producer who will mentor them in the crafting of a pilot script. The winners also have access to technical experts who will guide them in their development of the show’s engineering-angled storylines.

And the winners are …

Next MacGyver

Miranda Sajdak holds up the official MacGyver duct tape award. (Photo/The Paley Center for Media)

Beth Keser, a globally recognized semiconductor engineer, won for the adventure-procedural Rule 702. She will be mentored by Lori McCreary (Madam Secretary), Morgan Freeman’s longtime producing partner and president of the Producers Guild of America.

Jayde Lovell, a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) communicator for the New York Hall of Science, won for her high school dramedy SECs (Science and Engineering Clubs). She’ll be working with Roberto Orci, writer/producer of Sleepy Hollow and Hawaii Five-O.

Indie filmmaker Miranda Sajdak will get her World War II drama Riveting developed by Clayton Krueger, senior vice president of television at Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions.

Craig Motlong, a Seattle-based creative director, was chosen for the action drama Q Branch. He will come under the wing of Anthony Zuiker, creator and executive producer of the CSI franchise.

Shanee Edwards, film critic at SheKnows.com, is taking her steampunk concept Ada and the Machine to actress/producer America Ferrera (Ugly Betty, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) and Gabrielle Neimand of Take Fountain Productions.

We have said to the world that women need to be part of the solution to fixing the problems of this planet.

Lee Zlotoff

Before handing out the trophies, Zlotoff turned to the audience and said: “If you didn’t win, it doesn’t really matter. And the reason it doesn’t matter is because failure is not the opposite of success, but the seedbed of success.

“Anyone who takes up these endeavors experiences failures. It is not the end the line; it is only the beginning,” he added. “And the important part of this competition is that we had this competition. The bell got rung, the songs got sung and once again we have said to the world that women need to be part of the solution to fixing the problems of this planet. We’ve already won.”

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Can ‘The Next MacGyver’ change the conversation about female engineers?

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