Engineers Week is a catalyst for public recognition and discussion of our mutual interests for engineering success and innovation. How can we create more potential for both? We take this opportunity to hear from some key leaders.
We often hear that the U.S. is trailing other countries in STEM education. How can we help to strengthen and expand the pipeline of American students in the engineering disciplines?
National Academy of Engineering
--Charles M. Vest, President
Two critically important steps are:
1. States need to implement voluntary standards for K-12 science education that have engineering, especially design. imbedded in them and that make learning about science and engineering exciting, inspirational, project-based, and engaging.
2. Universities, preferably with corporate and governmental investment, need to develop programs to educate K-12 science and math teachers who have actually majored in science, engineering, or math.
In addition, I note that the NAE Engineering Grand Challenges are a great base to bring relevance and inspiration into project-based K-12 education as in this example from North Carolina:
Bentley Systems, Inc.
--Rob Whitesell, Senior Vice President, Operations Software
Engineering disciplines require a fundamental understanding and enjoyment of mathematics, and how better to foster that interest than through competition. Our Bentley STEM grant to West Point Middle School in Cullman, Alabama enabled the highly competitive and popular Math Team to purchase i-Pads, Training Apps, and supporting infrastructure for competition training and preparation.
At this rural North Alabama school, Math Team wins are celebrated alongside sports achievements and strong faculty support, student participation, and success in competition has made it 'cool' to be on the Math Team; what better way to make mathematics (and the basis for engineering careers) fun?!? That said, funding is short in all areas of education. STEM grants like ours can help overcome that challenge and encourage students to learn to enjoy mathematics."
Innovation in engineering can happen quickly, while product development and incubation often moves more slowly. How can collaboration across companies, industries and research institutions further advances in innovation without undermining competitiveness?
Bentley systems, Inc.
--Jack Cook, Vice President, Product Management Water and Wastewater
Technology providers that serve the engineering profession are uniquely positioned as hubs of innovation. Intellectual partnerships are established gradually and nurtured over a life-time.
Technology provides platforms that inspire and accelerate innovation by partnering users so that they become more productive, and better positioned to differentiate their services in creative ways that build up their own value.”
National Academy of Engineering
--Charles M. Vest, President
1. Companies can sponsor and discuss, perhaps through consortia, "bleeding edge" pre-competitive research at universities.
2. Simply forming informal opportunities for thought-leaders from a variety of companies to socialize and hear interesting presentations helps innovative ideas to emerge. It can also build important business interactions and synergy between or among companies in which everybody wins. Silicon Valley is the obvious exemplar.
One of the challenges facing the engineering field is a lack of awareness for what engineering is, and what engineers do. What steps can the engineering industry take to make our educational and career pursuits more real and relatable to the general public?
-- William H. Swanson, Chairman of the Board and CEO
Increasing awareness about engineering and what engineers do is a natural for industry. I am proud to be an engineer. Those of us who are engineers know how exciting our profession is. We need to share that excitement and passion every chance we get.
This has certainly been a focus of our STEM outreach programs at Raytheon. Organized under our MathMovesU;® initiative, our programs engage students on their own terms to show how math, science and engineering can be used in unexpected ways to pursue exciting goals. For example, when students plug in a guitar, ride a skateboard or play a video game, they are having fun with math, science and engineering – they just don’t know it.
So we work to channel their passions and inspire students to create a new, lifelong relationship with math and science, one that opens up a world of career possibilities. Some of the most popular examples of our MathMovesU programs include a virtual thrill ride called Sum of all Thrills™ at INNOVENTIONS;® at Epcot;® in Walt Disney World;® and a traveling interactive exhibit MathAlive! that provides students with fun hands-on experiences to demonstrate the math concepts behind engineering in everyday life.
By doing our part – by demonstrating the excitement and passion of engineering – the engineering industry can help ensure that the next generation is prepared, confident and motivated to pursue the STEM careers that are so crucial for our nation to continue as a world leader in innovation.
--Amos Avidan, Senior Vice President and Manager of Corporate Engineering and Technology.
It’s true that the public lacks awareness of what engineering is and what engineers do. This is particularly problematic for high school students who are making college and career choices. Sadly, many high school students perceive math and science as boring. Too many students come out of high school with little interest in technical fields, and the ones who do show interest often lack the math and science background required. Further, research has shown that a majority of students in the United States at least are not knowledgeable about engineering as a career option; many equate engineering with cars and trains. The relatively low and declining numbers of high school students choosing engineering as a major?and as a career?represents a major challenge for our society. The need for technical professionals is growing rapidly, and universities are unable to meet the demand. Although unemployment numbers remain relatively high, many engineering positions go unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates.
The engineering industry and our educational institutions can and should take steps to increase the public’s awareness of engineering and careers in engineering. Here are some ideas for consideration.
- Make people aware that engineering touches every aspect of our lives. All of the technology used and embraced by the public is the product of engineering. Make it known that engineers created the hardware and software that enable social media. Advertise the fact that engineers designed smart phones that have become essential to how we work and play. Explain the role that engineering plays in providing our basic necessities: supplying electricity to our homes and offices, driving our car to the grocery store, or flying to another continent.
- Emphasize that engineers play huge roles developing innovative solutions to such global challenges as food shortages, water scarcity, and greenhouse gas emissions. Young people entering the workforce today often want more than job security and the promise of a bright future; they want to do something meaningful that has a positive effect on humanity and the environment. Educate the public and students, in particular, that a career in engineering provides an opportunity to make a difference. Engage in corporate social responsibility, encourage volunteerism, and support programs that address the key problems of humanity in the 21st century; demonstrate that the engineering industry is committed to making the world a better place.
- Expose middle school and high school students to engineering. Put it in the language of young people?and from their vantage points. Provide students the opportunity to apply what they have learned in their math and science classes to solve practical engineering problems. Give them hands-on experience in turning a concept into reality, creating something new and useful using their minds and their hands. Allow students to explore the major engineering fields of chemical, civil, electrical, and mechanical engineering. Give students the exposure they need to choose a career.
These recommendations are already being implemented by some companies and by school districts. But both industry and our educational institutions need to be more aggressive if we are to have an impact on the public’s awareness of engineering and students’ appreciation of engineering as a career.
--Gayle J. Gibson, Director - Corporate Operations
The National Academy of Engineering has done some great work on a project called "Changing the Conversation." The project focuses on what engineers do in a more consistent way, so that students better understand the field and it assists in educating the public at large. The recommended messages were market tested and emphasize engineering as a creative career that helps improve the world. The key messages are:
- Engineers make a world of difference;
- Engineers are creative problem-solvers;
- Engineers help shape the future; and
- Engineering is essential to our health, happiness, and safety.
I try to use these messages when talking about what engineers do and most importantly add examples that illustrate the concept and bring the "typical" day of an engineer to life.
National Academy of Engineering
--Charles M. Vest, President
1. The easiest and most effective thing that companies can do is build identity for engineering and celebration of engineering into their own corporate advertising.
2. They should also get behind the programs noted in [my answer to question #1 above] and support them politically and financially at scale.
NCEES (National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying)
--Dale Jans, P.E., Immediate Past President
Most engineers I know are very excited about what they do. They take great pride in knowing that they’re making a difference, improving the world, and making things safer and better. But many of the engineers I know are also not the greatest communicators abouthow engineering is a wonderful profession—and how it touches all of us daily.
NCEES recently conducted a survey about the general public’s perceptions of engineering. One of the findings is that most people think of the following words to describe engineers: smart, technical, and educated. That’s great, but we also need to get across that engineers are creative, innovative problem solvers.We need to start showing our excitement about our profession to others in our communities. We can do that by reaching out to students, parents, and teachers tolet them know that engineering is fun, not just challenging.
We have to be better advocates for our profession, and that starts with making it personal. For example, as part of our Engineers Week activities, NCEES is celebrating Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day at the A.J. Whittenberg Elementary School in Greenville, S.C., near NCEES headquarters. The fourth-grade girls will have breakfast with local professionally licensed women engineers to learn about different types of engineering and to build balloon rockets. This is a great opportunity to talk to students one-on-one and to let them know that engineers are, in fact, real and relatable.
When we find opportunities like this to talk to people and reach out to students, we can show them that engineering is exciting. That’s one reason NCEES recently developed a new speaker’s kit to raise public awareness about what engineers do and why licensure is important. Whether you start small or big, you can take advantage of the resources that many engineering societies already offer, including the EWeek programs, and be an ambassador for the engineering profession.
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