university. “We were asking them if they knew what a university is, and one of them said, ‘A university is a place where you can become what you want to be.’ I can’t think of a better definition than that.”

Children spend many hours a day with electronic media, Stephens observed. But very few characters they witness in these media are related to science, technology, engineering, or mathematics—and those who are tend to be portrayed as villains or fools. Industry has begun to work with the entertainment industry to change these stereotypes, and the entertainment industry is receptive, partly because it, too, needs the help of scientists and engineers to be successful. For example, the SET Awards—for science, engineering, and technology—are presented to movies, TV series, radio and TV news programs, and print and online journalism for accurate and impactful entertainment portraying and promoting the fields of science, engineering, technology, and mathematics. “They have grabbed on to this and said, ‘We have to help solve this problem as well.’”

Khan made an intriguing suggestion about how to pull the humanities and engineering closer together. Today, students in high school English classes typically study great literature from historical periods such as the Victorian era. But almost completely absent from K–12 English classes is science fiction. Many science fiction novels juxtapose ideas from science and engineering with ideas from the social sciences, implicitly drawing those fields closer together. And in contrast to the literature usually studied in English classes, science fiction is forward looking. Some of the best science fiction “is about extrapolating science to what it can be.”


NAE president Charles Vest closed the forum by thanking the speakers and calling attention to how quickly the world is changing. The new world of engineering education is “coming down the pike so fast that it’s going to hit everybody like a ton of bricks,” he said. “We would be remiss if we underestimated the role that information technology is going to play. We are just at the beginning. We don’t know where it’s going to go, but it’s going to be big,…and it’s very exciting, because we are going to create opportunity for vast new numbers of young women and men.”

“We are going to create opportunity for vast new numbers of young women and men.”

Charles Vest, NAE

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement