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Executive Summary it: 5 In the twentieth century, engineers and engineering made disproportionate contributions, in comparison to their numbers and the credit received, to the design and development of the infrastructures and technologies that support the nation's global competitiveness, security, and standard of living. And they will continue to do so in the twenty-first century. Yet as our lives become more and more dependent on technological marvels, we and our elected representatives under- stand less and less about it. Most American citizens are poorly equipped to en- gage in public debate about technology-related issues that may affect their lives; our elected representatives are also poorly equipped to make decisions about tech- nology-based policy issues. To compound the problem, the K-12 educational system does a poor job of teaching math and science to children (and rarely teaches engineering and technology at all). Thus, new generations of engineers cannot be taken for granted. In fact, engineering graduations have been flat for the last 10 years. To address these issues, many organizations in the engineering community have undertaken many programs to try to improve the public awareness and public understanding of engineering. Unfortunately, public opinion surveys indicate that these programs have had little or no measurable impact on public perceptions ~ · . 01 englneerlng. A significant improvement in public awareness will require coordinated efforts by engineering organizations presenting consistent messages about the nature and value of engineering. To help the engineering community improve its individual and collective efforts, the National Academy of Engineering commis- sioned a survey/questionnaire to identify the range of current public awareness activities, and to collect information on their goals, target audiences, messages,
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2 RAISING PUBLIC AWARENESS OF ENGINEERING finances, and so on. This report summarizes the results of that survey and offers recommendations from the Committee on the Public Awareness of Engineering, a committee of distinguished members of the engineering community. SUMMARY OF THE SURVEY OF THE ENGINEERING COMMUNITY A great many outreach, communications, and educational activities are being conducted by engineering organizations. Many of these organizations sponsor more than one program and have engaged in these activities for many years. The total expenditures for all organizations that provided figures are about $265 mil- lion. We can estimate total expenditures for all organizations that reported they had outreach programs by extrapolating the mean budget for those which provided funding figures. Thus, total expenditures could be as high as $400 million, not including the value of volunteers' time. Organizations involved in these activities are committed to continuing the programs for the foreseeable future, and many plan to initiate new programs as well. Although these activities are diverse, many of them are intended to inspire young people (K-12) to pursue careers in engineering by introducing them to engineering and by stressing the importance of math and science. These pro- grams convey a simple message that math and science are fun and can lead to rewarding, challenging, fun, exciting, creative careers in engineering. All types of organizations surveyed, colleges and universities, engineering societies, museums, and national laboratories, have outreach programs. Most current activities are local or regional in scope. Only a few are national pro- grams, such as National Engineers Week, although it is typically conducted as a series of local projects. Most activities involve working with local schools, mentoring programs, and similar activities. In addition, contact between engi- neers and students is intermittent and temporary, sometimes just once a year. Although these "grassroots" activities appear to be well received, they have not had a measurable impact on public awareness of engineering on a national scale, as measured by public attitude surveys (Chapter 21. Most of these programs deliver messages on similar themes. There are recruitment messages engineering is a fun, creative, exciting, important career; "math and science are fun" messages; and "engineers are important and con- tribute to the quality of life, economy, environment" messages. Although the wording differs from program to program, these themes appear over and over. Organizations that sponsor outreach activities are very proud of their efforts and believe their programs are successful. However, their measurements of success tend to focus on short-term processes and tactics rather than long-term outcomes. The organizations who believed their programs had not been success- ful attributed this to a lack of resources. In fact, no single program can be cited, based on objective measures, as being particularly effective. National Engineers Week is the most highly visible and entrenched program, and many respondents
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 3 considered it is a good program; but it does not have universal reach. Other programs cited for effectiveness were sponsored by the National Society of Professional Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Association of Engineering Societies. When asked if they would support coordinated efforts, most, but not all, answered yes. Many respondents noted that bringing together all of the special- ized societies and trade associations (both of which tend to be very territorial) in one coordinated campaign would be difficult. However, most respondents believed coordinated efforts would be more efficient and more effective because they would deliver consistent messages, and most of the organizations were pre- pared to participate, or at least consider participating. The primary reasons they gave for supporting coordinated efforts can be summed up as improving the image of engineers and engineering among the public. A few felt that coordinated efforts would complement, rather than replace their programs, and some felt that their own resources (money and staffing) were already stretched too thin. Respondents who did not believe a coordinated effort is necessary thought it would be difficult to run and difficult to agree on messages or objectives. When asked what the messages of a large-scale campaign should be, most suggested that they should emphasize the importance of engineers to society and should promote engineer- ing as a career. RECOMMENDATIONS - A coordinated campaign to improve public understanding of engineering will require both short-term and long-term actions. The short-term focus should be on maintaining and increasing the public awareness of engineering through public relations and public affairs (PR/PA) activities. Long-term activities should focus on changes in the educational curriculum and improved teaching of math and science in elementary and secondary school. The engineering community is already engaged in PR/PA activities and educational interventions, but it needs to be better coordinated to ensure critical mass and better measured to ensure effec- tiveness. If students are successfully engaged by math, science, engineering, and tech- nology in grammar school and their interest can be sustained through secondary school, the goals of having a more technologically literate populace and students educationally equipped to choose an engineering track in college will be in hand. However, even assuming present education activities can be leveraged success- fully on a national scale, it will take a generation to see the long-term outcomes. Views of engineering held by the public are based on decades of information, misinformation, or lack of information, and will be difficult to change. Young people, beginning school, obviously, do not have these perceptions. They are clean slates, and their perceptions can be molded more easily. However, the engineering community and the nation can not afford to wait for this process to
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;- ( 4 RAISING PUBLIC AWARENESS OF ENGINEERING unfold, nor presume its ultimate success, so more effective PR/PA efforts now and in the future are essential. · The engineering community should develop nationally coordinated public relations and public affairs grassroots efforts to improve the public awareness of engineering. Present efforts are largely local in ef- fort and have not demonstrated impact on a national scale. The engineering community should agree on consistent messages (e.g., slogans, catchwords, images, etc.) for those campaigns that have been developed through rigorous testing to ensure their effectiveness. These messages should then be used throughout the community. The informa- tion provided in the survey/questionnaire includes some promising mes- sages, or a basis for developing effective messages. Metrics and evaluation criteria forfuture programs must be established. Decades of well-intentioned and enthusiastic outreach at the grassroots level have had little impact on engineering enrollments or public attitudes. Evaluation is important for two reasons: so that programs can demon- strate results, which in turn will safeguard their credibility and help garner ongoing support from the engineering community; and so that ineffective programs can be modified for greater impact. A mechanism should be established, e.g., a web site, to share public awareness of engineering activities with the entire engineering commu- nity. Appendix C lists selected outreach programs that appear to demon- strate some evaluation and impact. These outreach programs should be shared with the community to allow others to use and build on them. One of the goals of the project was to identify best practices. However, since most organizations do not evaluate their programs with objective criteria, it was not possible to select "best in class" programs. · Outreach activities that organizations are currently engaged in should be continued and encouraged. Renewed efforts should be made to develop objective outcome measures to ensure their effectiveness, but, at a minimum, present programs lend credibility to the commitment of the profession to improving technology literacy of the public and the educa- tion system. Some of them may be leveraged as part of nationwide efforts. · The media should be educated about engineering issues and the engi- neering community should place resources at their disposal. The media are very influential, and there is much room for educating them on the right way to talk about engineering and technology issues. The profession should also ensure that it can support inquiries from the media, providing them with spokespeople and experts. · New programs for children should also be developed to show how engineering is integrated into all aspects of society. Saturday morning .
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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY television, movies, other popular media, and museums should be strongly pursued to incorporate engineering, math and science messages. Several of the above recommendations apply to educational intervention as well as to public relations and public affairs efforts. For the specific case of the education system: · The engineering community should create a blue-ribbon council of representatives of the engineering, education, and public policy com- munities to develop an action plan for improving math, science, engineering, and technology education. Math and science curricula must be re-assessed and new curricula designed to encourage long-term study and to introduce engineering and problem solving in the early grades. Initial efforts should be focused on younger children who are less likely to have negative perceptions toward math and science. The state of Massachu- setts, through the efforts of Tufts University, the Museum of Science, and other organizations and policy makers, has already embarked on a con- certed effort that involves setting standards, redesigning curricula, and retraining teachers. Such approaches could eventually solve the pipeline issue and also make great improvements in increasing technical literacy and changing the image of engineers and engineering. Curricula redesign efforts should be supported through efforts target- ing opinion leaders and public policy leaders. Engineering's voice should be heard in public policy, through direct communications to opinion leaders and policy makers. Engineering societies and many companies already have lobbying efforts to ensure that their interests are represented in policy discussions. Similar efforts should be made to ensure that policy makers are educated about the importance of changing curricula. .
Representative terms from entire chapter: