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1 Tntroduction Engineering is the profession in which a knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgment to develop ways to utilize, economically, the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of mankind. Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, (ABET) IMPORTANCE OF ENGINEERING Who cares about public awareness of engineering? This question can be answered rather simply The engineering community cares. They care because they are chagrined to recognize that the public does not understand the contribu- tions of engineers and engineering to their quality of life; that the public is not equipped to engage in public debate over technology-related public policy issues; that government leaders are no more conversant with technology issues than the public; and that the lack of public interest may undermine the attraction of the engineering profession to young people. Thus, the engineering community cares, but the public should care also. The engineering community already conducts a wide variety of public aware- ness activities. Available evidence indicates, however, that current activities have had no measurable impact on public awareness on a national scale. One purpose of this report is to provide a summary of a recent survey/questionnaire about public awareness activities. The questionnaire was commissioned by the National Academy of Engineering and conducted in late 2001 and early 2002. A second 6
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INTRODUCTION TABLE 1-1 Greatest Engineering Achievements of the Twentieth Century 7 1. Electrification 2. Automobile 3. Airplane 4. Water supply and distribution 5. Electronics 6. Radio and television 7. Agricultural mechanization 8. Computers 9. Telephone 10. Air conditioning and refrigeration 1 1. Highways 12. Spacecraft 13. Internet 14. Imaging 15. Household appliances 16. Health technologies 17. Petroleum/petroleum technologies 18. Laser and fiber optics 19. Nuclear technologies 20. High-performance materials Source: NAE, 2000. . purpose of the report is to recommend to the engineering community how public awareness activities should be refocused to have a national impact. Engineers have been integral to the designing and building of America, from the smallest microcircuit to the most massive civil infrastructure. Engineers trans- late scientific discoveries into the practical applications that maintain and improve our standard of living food and water supplies, housing, electricity, sanitation systems, transportation, communications, security systems, medical devices and drug delivery, computers, and more. The National Academy of Engineering, in cooperation with 27 professional engineering societies, recently compiled a list of the 20 greatest engineering achievements of the twentieth century (Table 1-1~. This list was selected and ranked in order of importance by a committee of leading experts from academia and industry, and a wide range of engineering disciplines. These innovations, which shaped a century and changed the world, are used by or benefit the public every day with little awareness of how they happen to be available. As a global economy emerges and global competition increases, it is impor- tant that the United States maintain its prominence and leadership in engineering, science, and technology. For that we will need a technologically sophisticated workforce. Our national security and competitiveness, as well as our standard of living, depend on our technology-driven industrial strength. In the emerging interdependent global economy, sustained improvements in standards of living are expected, and in many places are desperately needed. The great challenges that lie ahead will demand the very best from the engineering There are 1.6 million engineers in the United States according to National Science Foundation data (NSF, 1999), based on the number of bachelor degrees, not including degrees in computer science, and 2.6 million engineers according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, 2002) data, based on occupa- tional categories.
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8 RAISING PUBLIC AWARENESS OF ENGINEERING profession. The challenges will affect not only our country, but the entire world: competition for limited resources; global population growth; energy sourcing and security; homeland security; aging infrastructure in some parts of the world and the lack of infrastructure in others; water and air pollution; global warming; disposal of toxic waste; and vanishing habitats and endangered species. Great resourcefulness and ingenuity will be necessary to deal with these complex issues. The solutions that must be developed and implemented will require engineering innovations. i] If the public as a whole and our leaders in particular are not able to make informed decisions about the uses of engineering innovations and technology, people can no longer oversee and ensure their welfare. Despite the personal and societal stakes, most people and political representatives at all levels of govern- ment do not have a sufficient understanding of how technology is developed and applied by the engineering professions. Currently, only eight members of the House of Representatives, one in the Senate, and a handful in state legislatures have engineering degrees. Only two members of the House of Representatives are licensed professional engineers. Engineering is empowered to serve society by informed, aware citizens and policy makers. A well-informed public in a democratic society results in better policy and cost/benefit decisions. An aware public will seek information from and the participation of the engineering profession in important technological and standard-of-living issues, will understand the importance of engineering educa- tion and research and development (R&D), will make the changes necessary to improve them, and will encourage elected representatives to provide adequate support for them. The public perception of the role of engineers is a major factor in whether or not talented young people consider engineering a desirable career choice. From 1900 to the middle 1980s, the number of graduating engineers with bachelor's degrees increased steadily. The number peaked in 1986 at 78,178 (see Appendix A), a healthy 7.9 percent of the total number of undergraduate degrees awarded that year. After that, the numbers declined to about 63,000 through the 1990s. In 2001, the number of bachelor's degrees awarded in engineering rebounded slightly to 65,113, comprising 5.5 percent of all B.S. degrees. Efforts to increase participation by women and underrepresented minorities from near zero levels have born fruit, but participation remains stubbornly low (NSB, 2000; see Appendix A). In most of our key competitors in the industrial world, the number of engi- neers being graduated is substantially higher than in the United States. China produces three times the number of engineers, the European Union (KU) nearly twice as many, and Japan about two-thirds more (see Appendix A) (NSB, 2000~. Engineering education also provides a strong base for careers in other fields. Twenty-two percent of Fortune 200 CEOs have undergraduate engineering
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r INTRODUCTION 9 degrees, the most common degree held. Seventeen percent have liberal arts degrees, and nine percent have degrees in business administration (Neff and Ogden, 2002~. Although economic cycles may cause the total number of engineers needed by all industrial sectors to fluctuate somewhat, the underlying demand will con- tinue to increase. For the United States to maintain its global technological lead and its standard of living, we must reinforce the value of young people pursuing an engineering education. An engineering-aware public would find ways to encourage, support, and reward its bright young people who seek careers in . . engmeerlng. REFERENCES BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics). 2002. Available online at www.bls.gov. NAE (National Academy of Engineering). 2000. Greatest Engineering Achievements of the 20th Century. Available online at www.greatachievements.org. Neff, T., and D. Ogden. 2002. Route to the top: the demand for performance. Chief Executive. Available online at www.chiefexecutive.net. NSB (National Science Board). 2000. Science and Engineering Indicators-2000. NSB-00-1. Arlington, Va: National Science Foundation. NSF (National Science Foundation). 1999. Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System (SESTAT). Available online at http://srsstats.sbe.nsf.gov/. -