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Breakout Sessions On the second afternoon of the symposium, breakout sessions were held to give participants an opportunity to talk in seven smaller groups about public policy-oriented engineering issues. Each group was asked to focus on one as- pect of public understanding of engineering or engineering outreach to the gen- eral public. The discussions in each group are summarized below. Recommen- dations represent the opinions of the participants and not necessarily of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Q1: Why should engineering matter to the public? Why should public awareness matter to engineers? Does the public have a negative view of engineering? If so, how can we improve it? Group 1 The group first posed preliminary questions and made some observations. First, why should engineers care about public awareness? The group concurred that public awareness is necessary to high-quality engineering as well as to di- versity in the profession. What "public" should we target? The public can be divided into three groups: policy makers, people who are not engineers, and people who may become engineers (e.g., students). The way we promote aware- ness may vary depending on which group we are trying to reach. For example, policy makers for the most part are not technically well versed. The question then arises whether engineers should play a role in public policy making. The nonengineering public is generally not educated about technology. 143
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44 FRONTIERS OF ENGINEERING Although approximately 30 percent of Americans have completed at least one college-level course, the majority attended schools that did not have engi- neering programs. This makes reaching the public difficult because most people show little interest unless something affects them directly. It seems clear that public perceptions also are dependent on current events. For example, placing a man on the moon was a widely applauded feat that contributed to a positive image. The explosion of the shuttle Challenger was a huge blow to the standing of engineers in the public mind. Public expectations of engineers continue to be high, even when funding and public support diminishes. Many potential engineers (students) are not introduced to engineering be- fore they select a critical career path. Often the information students are given about engineering does not portray engineering as an exciting or important career option. Engineers have to become involved in educating people and not rely on the educational system to do the job. However, engineers have typically worked through professional societies and have not presented a unified front. Perhaps as a society we need to redefine an "educated person," to include an understanding of technology. But first, engineers themselves must agree on a definition of "engineer." We need to work together to formulate a convincing, unified mes- sage that can be communicated to the public. 1. Does the public have a negative view of engineering? Public perceptions may reflect "guilt by association," that is, if the public considers a specific product as negative, then they may also consider the engi- neers who developed it negatively. These feelings are usually limited in dura- tion and limited to a specific engineering discipline. People may also be influ- enced by what they read in the media (e.g., public outcry about biomedical engineering followed negative feedback by patients with breast implants; public praise of biomedical engineering followed the revelation that a celebrity had received hip implants). The consensus of the group was that, on the whole, the public is indifferent or ambivalent about engineering. There is a certain level of ignorance as to what engineers actually do, and engineers are at fault for this. People who are aware of engineering view engineers as nerdy, smart, sometimes arrogant problem solvers who have good salaries and stable jobs. A person's perspective on engineering often depends on a specific teacher or exposure to engineering in K-12. Unlike other careers, such as teaching, sales, or performing, students do not generally have day-to- day exposure to engineering. In addition, they have limited, if any, exposure to engineering in school. Although everyone is surrounded by products that are the results of engineering, the connection is rarely spelled out. 2. Why do public views of engineering matter? The public should be concerned because the future and availability of qual-
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BREAKOUT SESSIONS 145 ity jobs is at stake. Quality engineering is necessary to maintaining a high standard of living and is crucial to national security. Engineering enhances the quality of health and life. Engineers can also provide impartial input in debates that require scientific reasoning. 3. Why should the public view of engineering matter to engineers? Many of the same reasons apply. Unless the public understands and takes an interest in engineering, we run the risk of losing industries, as well as high- tech jobs. Engineers need public approval to ensure the availability of funds that lead to solutions to problems (i.e., if public perceptions are negative, research money could disappear). Engineers protect the standard of living and provide crucial advice on national security issues. A higher level of public awareness of engineering can lead to an increase in the interest of students in engineering as a profession and an increase in the number, diversity, and quality of individuals who select engineering as a profession. Public awareness also contributes to the attraction of talented students from abroad, some of whom return to their home countries as positive ambassadors of the United States. The consensus of the group was that, except in cases of negative events specific to engineering, the public perception of engineering is indifferent. Therefore, the last question was modified. 4. What can we do about public perceptions that are indifferent (rather than "negative" as in the original question)? In general, we need a more astute Congress in terms of engineering. The question then becomes whether engineers should be trained to participate in public policy or whether politicians should be educated about engineering and technology issues. Politicians could be educated through a technology course sponsored by NAE specifically for policy makers. The general public could be educated through a national media effort, such as a PBS special, that provides an overview of engineering and its benefits to, and roles in, society. Many engi- neering fields already provide science-based television programming, but a docu- mentary that provides a general introduction to engineering, clearly defines the field, and targets audiences with different educational levels would be beneficial. Grass-roots efforts/outreach programs geared toward integrating engineering in the schools should be continued. The definition of an "educated person" should be expanded to include tech- nological expertise; this should be done in conjunction with K-12 governing bodies. It is important that engineering be introduced to children early in their careers; high school may be too late because opinions about particular subject areas have already been set. Engineering can be included in the curriculum by using methods as part of the regular curriculum so that there is no time burden on teachers (teachers are already constrained by standardized testing schedules and related testing criteria and do not have time to incorporate seemingly "extrane-
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146 FRONTIERS OF ENGINEERING ous" information into their class schedules). A history of engineering, for ex- ample, could be incorporated into the high school curriculum as a module in an existing course or as a stand-alone course. In either case, the emphasis would be on engineering contributions that have influenced the development of society and would define engineering as a career option. All levels of engineering professions (from blue collar workers with technical certificates to research sci- entists with advanced degrees) should be promoted. But first, we (i.e., engi- neers) must define who we are, deliver our message to the public convincingly, and continue to be proactively and interactively involved. Q2: How can engineering make the world safer? How can we make sure that technological capabilities are used to their fullest advantage? Group 2A The group first discussed what "safer" means. Does it mean safety from terrorism, natural disasters, disease, hunger, etc.? We can define safety specifi- cally or broadly. Defined broadly, safety concerns are related to inequalities in the way basic human needs across the world are met. These inequalities make the world an unsafe place. Engineers need to be aware of political and ethical issues of inequality in the United States and abroad and become more involved in policy making to address these issues at the local and national levels. The group raised some specific safety concerns: Enabling Technology. The development and strategic placement of sensors for the rapid detection of microbiological and chemical agents will be critical. Envi- ronmental sensors might be placed in cell phones, for example. Regulations and privacy issues will have to be addressed. Engineers can be involved in the development of sensors, the identification of deployment technologies, and mak- . . . . . ng pot .lCy cleclslons. Critical Infrastructures Electrical power plants. Energy generation and distribution networks were not initially designed to be interconnected; they were connected after the fact. Engineers can help in redesigning and retrofitting them so they can operate more reliably. Water systems. Not only are present water systems aging, clean water will be scarce in the future. We will need new technologies for detecting water quality, locating water sources, and restoring/cleaning water. The issue will be urgent for small, remote villages. Engineers can help in the scaling of technolo- gies for cleaning large water sources/supplies to apply to small systems. Air transport industry. Engineers can help determine what it will take to
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BREAKOUT SESSIONS 147 be 100 percent sure within a reasonable time that a particular passenger plane is completely safe and free of explosives and other weapons. How far are we from this certainty? Are there privacy issues to be addressed? Public health. Health care systems need engineering input in developing protocols and processes, medical devices, and real-time measurements of physi- ological and biological parameters (sensors and communication technology). The Internet and software. Engineers can help ensure that defective software with known bugs is not released and can help establish regulations to ensure that this does not happen. Engineers can also make the public less toler- ant of software with bugs. Engineers are problem solvers and driven by (1) economics (e.g., maximiz- ing profits for a company), and (2) geopolitical issues (e.g., political factors that lead to investment in specific areas of technological development). Some in the group noted that engineers in academe might be less affected by these factors than engineers in industry. Engineers can provide both engineering solutions and policy input. To this end, we need mechanisms to help us identify how the world could be made safer. The National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine could identify problems that the engineering community could address to make the world a safer place in- stead of waiting to be solicited by the government to advise on issues identified by the government. In addition, moving from the development of a technology to its implementation can often be impacted by politics and policy making. En- gineers can and should make a difference in both. Group 2B The discussion by this group can be summed up in five main points: · One way engineers can make the world safer is through modeling and simulation. The group discussed whether the focus should be on terrorism or accidents. The consensus was that antiterrorism measures are too costly to make every building safe, so it is important that the focus be on resources. · Engineers should focus on making systems that have dual use (e.g., masks for fire and chemical agents and HVAC for biological attacks and allergens). · Engineers should communicate better with the public about risks and provide more information to public officials and decision makers. · Engineers should educate the public about safety, which would help create market demand for safe products, which would then drive engineering design. . Risk analysis should be a standard part of engineering curricula.
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148 FRONTIERS OF ENGINEERING Q3: What is the proper balance between the free flow of information and national security in a free and technologically sophisticated society? Group 3A The group discussed how we can continue to hire qualified foreign nationals for our national laboratories and still satisfy security concerns. Our scientific and technical biases and reward systems tend toward openness. Many agreed that it is important not to keep the "good guys" ignorant, because the "bad guys" already know what the vulnerabilities are. It is not easy to find the proper balance between openness and secrecy. After 9/11, for example, visas were granted to some dead terrorists and denied to some legitimate applicants. Bureaucrats tend to be cautious because bureaucracies exact a high price for those who not follow the letter of the law. Is there a middle ground between giving out too much information and not enough? The group agreed that guide- lines would be helpful. In hindsight, it would have been better to publish articles on how a plane could be hijacked. But should information about how to inject cyanide be published? In general, the group thought we should follow a layered approach to secu- rity issues and acknowledge that success is not dependent on protecting informa- tion. Tactical issues, such as not exporting high-end technology, and strategic issues, such as how to attract the best and brightest and maintain technological superiority, also affect security. Personal judgment is an important component in the layered approach. One criterion for deciding whether or not to release information is "ease of use" for positive or negative ends. Should we have clear guidelines or should we rely on personal judgment or review boards? Engineers might elect a panel to review and issue guidelines to clarify what should and should not be published, but this may be possible only in select industries. Group 3B The group discussed many types of information controlled in the United States, ranging from information classified or otherwise restricted by the U.S. government, to information that is proprietary and copyrighted by private indi- viduals or corporations. The bulk of the discussion, however, centered on in- formation that is controlled by the U.S. government. Examples from World War II and current events, such as 9/11, were examined in the context of mecha- nisms, such as classification or "ITAR-restricted" labeling systems, used for information control. The general consensus was that the current mechanisms are not overly burdensome for engineers and scientists, and that they do provide some degree of protection to citizens from foreign attack. The group agreed that it is necessary to control information concerning methods and sources for
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BREAKOUT SESSIONS 149 information-gathering, as well as information concerning military operations or planning. However, censorship of basic research was generally felt to be un- necessary and possibly even harmful to U.S. interests, because prohibiting sci- entists from communicating could have the unintended consequence of inhibit- ing technological progress. Q4: Who becomes an engineer? How can we make our profession more representative of the country as a whole? What are the societal benefits of a diverse engineering workforce? Group 4A The group began by defining "engineer." According to the definition on page 6 of Raising Public Awareness of Engineering, "Engineers do applied re- search aimed at improving the quality of life." Many reasons were given for why the people in the group had become engineers: an early love for computers; a father who was an engineer or in a profession where he worked with engineers; a desire to learn problem-solving methods; a desire to be in a field that did not require knowledge of a foreign language; a desire to participate in the space race and a passion for space exploration; the default profession because the individual did not want to become a doctor (which parents wanted); prestige of the profes- sion; appreciation for what engineers do; a desire for job security; a fascination with video games and a desire to learn how to design them; discovery of a talent for proving theorems. The group also addressed what factors excited people's interest in math/ science: K-12 science fairs; exposure to "cool" role models; early exposure via a parent, friend, other role model; the prestige factor. The group concluded that "cool" movies with engineers as the heroes (i.e., Hollywood glamorizing engi- neers) would help stimulate interest in math/science. There are many reasons people are sometimes turned off by engineering: the perception that it is not creative; a fear of difficult math; unwillingness to "hang in there" and become comfortable with math; a lack of exposure to what engineers do (there is no formal system in the United States for exposing people to engineering); a lack of publicity about engineering; the perception that engi- neering is not fashionable or newsworthy; a strong focus today on biology; a short-term perspective on what is fun and little understanding that a long-term career in engineering can be a lot of fun; too much work required; the perception of engineers as "geeks;" the perceived inaccessibility of engineering accom- plishments. The group agreed that several things could be done to remedy the situation: universities and K-12 could be linked; a requirement for outreach could be built into National Science Foundation proposals; Hollywood could make a movie/ show highlighting positive aspects of engineering.
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150 FRONTIERS OF ENGINEERING Why should we care about a declining number of engineers? Services are being outsourced because of a shortage of trained domestic workers. The na- tional interest won't be served. Lack of understanding of basic math/science will eventually come back to haunt us. The decline in engineers will eventually affect research funding and hence the advances that result from research. What are the benefits of a diverse engineering workforce? If different per- spectives are brought to bear on a problem, the day-to-day dynamic changes. People from different backgrounds can lead to changes in patterns of interacting/ thinking. People from different cultures/backgrounds can make everyone more aware of how an engineering product will fit into different cultures. Even in pure science, the questions one asks are influenced by one's background, and there is a presumption that a diversity of questions is inherently beneficial. Edu- cation should play a role in advancing diversity (diversity in thinking is not always coupled to diversity in gender/race), because a diverse workforce will eventually lower the barriers to entry within the profession; once there is a criti- cal mass, people who might have been deterred may decide to enter the field. People who become accustomed to working with people from a variety of cul- tures become more inclusive, which is a virtue. The following can be done to make the engineering workforce more repre- sentative of the population as a whole: initiate more K-12 outreach programs; require students to take more math/science; educate teachers in presenting sci- ence/math/engineering in a way that is fun and accessible; quadruple the salaries of K-12 teachers; encourage interaction by having role models come into K-12 schools; develop a "carrot/stick" approach to encourage people to interact in a sustained way, perhaps by increasing vacation days for each K-12 visit; arrange for a K-12 teacher to do a sabbatical at a university or in a company then return to his/her school to share the lessons from the experience. Group 4B . The following motivating factors for becoming an engineer were mentioned: Role models (including middle school teachers who can keep girls inter- ested in math and science), college professors, and role models in the media. · Families. . Personality traits (e.g., independence, enjoyment of tinkering). Many obstacles to becoming an engineer were mentioned: · Math is considered competitive at an early age, which scares people off. Social pressure against women excelling in math is still strong. · Math and science are not taught well.
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BREAKOUT SESSIONS 151 · "Engineering" is not part of the curriculum like science is. · Many believe that monetary rewards are not commensurate with the work engineers do. · Opportunities in engineering are not generally well-known. · The retention rate of women and minority students is low. · The European Union and Japan graduate many more engineers than the United States; something about U.S. culture discourages people from pursuing . . . careers In englneenng. · Some engineering fields (e.g., materials and industrial engineering) are not well recognized. Some steps that might help to overcome these obstacles: . interest. . Broadcast targeted advertisements in the media. · Initiate outreach programs to elementary and middle school teachers. · Undertake a national initiative (e.g., response to Sputnik) to stimulate Exert pressure by industry not to hire from institutions that do not have enough minorities on the faculty or in the student body. . students. Implement institutional reforms to retain women and minority faculty. · Change the engineering curriculum to appeal to a broader base of · Adopt more innovative approaches to education (e.g., self-taught electri- cal engineering courses at UC-Berkeley). · Adopt a project-based educational format. · Encourage families to promote engineering as a career.
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Representative terms from entire chapter: