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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Every year, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in the United States to improve the public understanding of engineering (NAE, 2002). Despite these efforts, educational research shows that Kâ12 teachers and students generally have a poor understanding of what engineers do (Cunningham et al., 2005; Cunningham and Knight, 2004). Polling data show that the public believes engineers are not as engaged with societal and community concerns as scientists or as likely to play a role in saving lives (Harris Interactive, 2004). And when asked to judge the relative prestige of professions, people tend to place engineering in the middle of the pack, well below medicine, nursing, science, and teaching (Harris Interactive, 2006). Parents, however, are generally amenable to the idea of their sons and daughters opting for careers in engineering. Understandably, engineers, engineering educators, and the orga- nizations that represent them want people to have an accurate, more positive impression of engineering. However, there also other impor- tant reasons for improving the public understanding of engineering:
CHANGING THE CONVERSATION â¢ Sustaining the U.S. capacity for technological innovation. A better understanding of engineering would educate policy makers and the public as to how engineering contributes to economic development, quality of life, national security, and health. â¢ Attracting young people to careers in engineering. A Âbetter understanding of engineering should encourage students to take higher level math and science courses in middle school, thus enabling them to pursue engineering educa- tion in the future. This is especially important for girls and underÂrepresented minorities, who have not historically been attracted to technical careers in large numbers. â¢ Improving technological literacy. To be capable, confident participants in our technology-dependent society, citizens must know something about how engineering and science, among other factors, lead to new technologies (NAE and NRC, 2002). Goal of the Messaging Project The goal of this project, primarily funded by the National Sci- ence Foundation with additional support from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, is to encourage coordinated, consistent, effective communication by the engineering community to a variety of audiences, including school children, their parents, teachers, and counselors, about the role, importance, and career potential of engineering. The project had three objectives: â¢ to identify a small number of messages likely to improve the public understanding of engineering â¢ to test the effectiveness of these messages in a variety of target audiences â¢ to disseminate the results of the message testing to the engi- neering community This project did not have the goal of developing metrics for mea- suring the effectiveness of messaging efforts. Nevertheless, it is reason-
Executive Summary able to ask what one might look for as evidence of âimprovementâ in public understanding of engineering. One indicator of improvement would be the number and diversity of organizations using this report to shape their engineering outreach. Over time, we would hope to see growth in this set of organizations, and that might be measured through surveys of the engineering community. A longitudinal study, combined with âdipstickâ surveys before, during, and after the deploy- ment of new messages, could indicate the extent to which the public recognizes the new messages or associates certain key words, such as creativity and innovation, with engineering. The remainder of the Executive Summary is focused on survey results for the messages, and it briefly discusses testing data related to several shorter, more punchy âtaglines.â Additional findings are described in the full report, and complete data tables of the Â survey results are provided in an accompanying CD. The CD also contains a copy of the full report as a PDF. Methodology Through a request-for-proposals process, the committee selected the communications firm Bemporad Baranowski Marketing Group to oversee message development, in partnership with Global Strategy Group (GSG), a market research company. GSG and Harris Interactive, another market-research firm, were selected to test the messages. The study used qualitative and quantitative research. The qualita- tive research included in-depth interviews, youth âtriadsâ (same-sex groups of three 9â11-year-olds), and adult and teen focus groups to determine perceptions of engineers and engineering by different groups as a basis for developing a positioning statement, messages, and taglines. The quantitative research consisted of an online survey that oversampled for African Americans and Hispanics. The goal of the quantitative research was to shed light on the findings of the focus groups and provide a statistically sound foundation for the committeeâs recommendations. The committee also solicited feedback through pre- sentations at relevant meetings and by posting an interim status report on the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) website to encourage input from a cross section of the engineering community and others.
CHANGING THE CONVERSATION In the interviews, focus groups, and youth triads, small samples were selected without statistical procedures. The results of this quali- tative research had to be tested through quantitative methods. In the quantitative research, the online survey, respondents were part of volunteer survey panels. Thus we could not control exactly who would take part in the survey, and the responses may not accurately reflect the demographics of the sample populations. This common limitation was addressed by weighting (i.e., adjusting survey responses upward or downward to match the demographic variable of interest). Non- responses also affect the representativeness of a sample, and thus the âgeneralizabilityâ of the results. Another limitation was that respon- dents were required to have access to the Internet. In the committeeâs view, these methodological issues do not detract from the usefulness of the studyâs findings. The Engineering Messaging Landscape Current and past engineering outreach to the public and message development have been ad hoc efforts, and metrics for tracking results have rarely been used. Although a variety of useful tactics have been tried, no consistent message has been communicated, even among projects by the same organization. Most outreach initiatives target high school students with an eye toward âpriming the engineering education pipeline.â Less attention has been paid to elementary and middle school students, where efforts would serve a âmainlineâ function of promot- ing technological literacy and stimulating interest in mathematics and science. With the notable exception of National Engineers Week, most outreach programs have been local. In general, messages targeting younger children attempt to con- vince them that mathematics and science are easy or fun and that engi- neering is challenging, exciting, hands-on, and rewarding. Messages for older, prospective college students tend to emphasize career potential. For the most part, these have been direct statements emphasizing the personal benefits of being an engineer. A recurring theme in many messaging efforts is that engineering requires skills in mathematics and science. Frequently, these messages
Executive Summary suggest that students must have an aptitude for and strong interest in these subjects to succeed in engineering. Changing the Conversation In collaboration with the committee, the consultants developed a positioning statement to guide future outreach activities by the engineering community (Box ES-1). This optimistic, inspirational statement emphasizes connections between engineering and ideas and possibilities, rather than engineering as a math and science based method of solving problems. The statement describes engineering as inherently creative and concerned with human welfare, as well as an emotionally satisfying calling. In short, the statement changes the tone and content of the conversation about engineering. A positioning state- ment is the conceptual foundation for a communications campaign, but it is not usually shared with the public. BOX ES-1 New Positioning Statement No profession unleashes the spirit of innovation like engineering. From research to real-world applications, engineers constantly dis- cover how to improve our lives by creating bold new solutions that connect science to life in unexpected, forward-thinking ways. Few professions turn so many ideas into so many realities. Few have such a direct and positive effect on peopleâs everyday lives. We are counting on engineers and their imaginations to help us meet the needs of the 21st century. Findings from the Qualitative Research Students in the focus groups and triads were asked to describe their images of engineers, their understanding of engineering, their reactions to examples of engineering, their views on current school subjects, and their hopes for future careers. Participants in the parent
CHANGING THE CONVERSATION group were asked to describe their thoughts and ideas about career choices for their children. Both students and parents were also asked their reactions to several preliminary messaging âthemesâ (Box ES-2) based on the positioning statement. BOX ES-2 Preliminary Messaging Themes Ideas in Action. This theme underscores how engineering uniquely bridges the world of science with the real world. Life Takes Engineering. This theme focuses on the fieldâs essential role and life-changing work. A Limitless Imagination. This theme speaks to the innovative, design-driven nature of engineering. Â Free to Explore. This theme evokes the constant journey that is the Âengineerâs quest for new solutions. Shape the Future. This theme speaks to how engineering offers an Âempowering and rewarding career. An Enterprising Spirit. This theme recognizes the inventive spirit and pioneering contribu- tions of the field. Summary Findings: Students â¢ Most students understand that engineers âdesign and build thingsâ but have a limited sense of what engineers actually do. â¢ Students have a generally positive impression of engineers, but many feel that they are not smart enough to become eÂngineers.
Executive Summary â¢ Many students believe engineering work is sedentary, per- formed mostly on computers, and involves little contact with other people. â¢ Most girls believe women can be engineers as well as men. â¢ When asked to name engineers, most students could only name men. â¢ Examples of engineering related to familiar objects and activities stimulated the most interest in learning more about e Â ngineering. â¢ âMaking good moneyâ was named most often as a career goal. However, the idea of âmaking a differenceâ also had very strong appeal. Summary Findings: Parents â¢ Most parents thought engineering would provide job security (e.g., good salary and benefits) and a career path for advance- ment and success. â¢ Parents tended to favor the practical messaging themes, reflect- ing their emphasis on job security for their children. Findings from the Quantitative Research To test the results of qualitative research, the committee col- lected quantitative data from an online survey administered to nearly 3,600Â individuals. The survey instrument comprised six questions about views of engineering and engineers and four questions about the proposed messages and taglines that had been refined to reflect the results of the focus groups and triads (Box ES-3). The survey was administered in two phases: to an initial sample of teens and adults in December 2006 and an oversample of African American and ÂHispanic teens and adults in spring 2007. All five messages were scored at least âsomewhat appealingâ by the overwhelming majority of adults and teens. The message with the By contrast, teens in the online survey rated the importance of salary second or third behind âinteresting workâ and âwork that makes a difference, is meaningful.â
CHANGING THE CONVERSATION BOX ES-3 Messages Tested in the Online Survey Engineers make a world of difference.* From new farming equipment and safer drinking water to Âelectric cars and faster microchips, engineers use their knowledge to i Âmprove peopleâs lives in meaningful ways. Engineers are creative problem-solvers. They have a vision for how something should work and are dedi- cated to making it better, faster, or more efficient. Engineers help shape the future. They use the latest science, tools, and technology to bring ideas to life. Engineering is essential to our health, happiness, and safety. From the grandest skyscrapers to microscopic medical devices, itÂ is impossible to imagine life without engineering. Engineers connect science to the real world. They collaborate with scientists and other specialists (such as ani- mators, architects, or chemists) to turn bold new ideas into reality. *This message was inspired by a similar theme used to promote National Engineers Week. highest âvery appealingâ rating among all groups was âEngineers make a world of difference.â This message was also considered the âmost believableâ and âmost relevant.â In general, however, girls were less enthusiastic than boys about all of the messages. âEngineers connect science to the real worldâ was given the fewest votes for âvery appealingâ among all groups and was the least âperson- ally relevantâ for all groups but African American adults. This finding was confirmed when survey participants were asked to choose a single âmost appealingâ message.
Executive Summary The survey also revealed some significant gender differences. For example, boys in the initial sample found âEngineering makes a world of differenceâ and âEngineers are creative problem solversâ equally appealing. Girls also found âEngineering makes a world of differenceâ the most appealing. However, the second most appealing message for girls was âEngineering is essential to our health, happiness, and safety.â Girls ages 16 to 17 in the African American sample and all girls in the Hispanic sample found this second message significantly more appeal- ing than did the boys in those groups. Testing of Preliminary Taglines In addition to messages, the online survey tested several prelimi- nary taglines (Box ES-4). Because of time and funding constraints, the taglines had been developed intuitively from the results of the qualita- tive research, without the benefit of creative prototypes (such as Âposters, TV ads, or web pages). In addition, the taglines were only tested in the online surveys. Thus the results may not represent the best measure of their true potential. Nevertheless, several taglines tested well. The tagline âTurning ideas into realityâ tested well among all survey respondents. This straightforward tagline, which is consistent with the messages used to promote National Engineers Week, is more descriptive than evocative and conveys a direct message that does not require additional creative context. As a stand-alone tagline, it makes BOX ES-4 Preliminary Taglines â¢ Turning ideas into reality â¢ Because dreams need doing â¢ Designed to work wonders â¢ Life takes engineering â¢ The power to do â¢ Bolder by design â¢ Behind the next big thing
10 CHANGING THE CONVERSATION the most sense of the seven. It is interesting to note, however, that the phrase âideas into realityâ also appears in the full description of âEngi- neers connect science to the real world,â which was the least appealing of the five tested messages, especially among women. This discrepancy reinforces the need for additional testing of taglines. A tagline that tested especially well among teens in the initial survey was âBecause dreams need doing.â Conclusions and Recommendations Happily, our research showed that engineers do not have major image problems. In fact, contrary to the image engineers have of themselves, the public views engineering and engineers in a relatively positive light. Our research showed that fewer than 15 percent associ- ated the words âboringâ or ânerdyâ with engineering. In fact, most adults and teens respect engineers and consider their work rewarding and important, but perhaps not enough to inspire them to become engineers. We did find that the public has a poor idea of what engineers actu- ally do on a day-to-day basis; and there is a strong sense that engineer- ing is not âfor everyone,â and perhaps especially not for girls. Most current messages are framed to emphasize the strong links between engineering and just one of its attributesâthe need for mathematics and science skills. In other words, current messages often ignore other vital characteristics of engineering, such as creativity, teamwork, and communication. Based on our research, we can make a strong case that effective messaging will require audience segmentation. The âbrandingâ of engi- neering must be modified to appeal to (1) teens in general, (2) teenage boys, and (3) teenage girls, as well as to (4) adults. RECOMMENDATIONS The committeeâs first two recommendations address how the positioning statement and messages should be used. These recom- mendations are immediately actionable by organizations interested in improving public understanding of engineering. The third and fourth
Executive Summary 11 recommendations, which suggest the need to refine the preliminary taglines and to develop a public relations âtool kitâ for the engineer- ing community, can be addressed in the near term and will require dedicated personnel and funding. Efforts to carry out the last recom- mendation, which proposes an ambitious, large-scale communications âcampaign,â can begin immediately, but successful implementation will require long-term, sustained effort by many organizations. Using the Positioning Statement Recommendation 1. To present an effective case for the importance of engineering and the value of an engineering education, the engineering community should engage in coordinated, consistent, effective com- munication to ârepositionâ engineering.Â Specifically, the engineering community should adopt and actively promote the positioning state- ment (Box 4-1) in this report, which emphasizes that engineering and engineers can make a difference in the world, rather than describing engineering in terms of required skills and personal benefits. The statement should not appear verbatim in external communications but should be used as a point of reference, or anchor, for all public outreach. One of the most significant findings of this project is the strong association in the mind of the public between competency in math- ematics and science and the ability to become an engineer. âMust be good at math and scienceâ was by far the most frequently selected attribute of engineering in the online survey, suggesting that messages emphasizing this attribute have been understood by all adults and teen- agers. Unfortunately, many of them appear to consider this a negative, a barrier to engineering studies. In keeping with this finding, our test- ing also showed that the weakest of the five tested messages portrayed engineers as âconnecting science to the real world.â We conclude, therefore, that continuing to emphasize math and science in marketing or rebranding engineering is unnecessary and may damage rather than increase the appeal of engineering. The same can be said of messages that focus on the practical benefits of
12 CHANGING THE CONVERSATION being an engineer, rather than the inspirational, optimistic aspects of e Â ngineering. An example of how the medical profession is promoted may help illustrate the potential value of Recommendation 1. The medical pro- fession does not market itself to young people by pointing out that they will have to study organic chemistry or by emphasizing the long, hard road to becoming a physician. The image of the physician is of a person who cures diseases and relieves human suffering. When promoting engineering, our appeal should tap into the hopes and dreams of prospective students and the public. This approach would also have the virtue of placing math and science, correctly, as just two of a number of skills and dispositions, such as collaboration, communication, and teamwork, necessary to a successful engineer. Adopting Tested Messages Recommendation 2. The four messages that tested well in this p Â rojectââEngineers make a world of difference,â âEngineers are c Â reative problem solvers,â âEngineers help shape the future,â and âEngi- neering is essential to our health, happiness, and safetyââshould be adopted by the engineering community in ongoing and new public outreach initiatives. The choice of a specific message should be based on the demographics of the target audience(s) and informed by the qualitative and quantitative data collected during this project. Our research should not preclude others from pursuing mes- sage development, but we strongly feel that the rigorous process we used to generate our messages justifies their widespread use. In FebruaryÂ 2008, the NAE launched a new website, Engineer Your Life (www.Âengineeryourlife.org), which aims to interest academically pre- pared high school girls in careers in engineering. The site used our message âEngineers make a world of differenceâ on its homepage and adopted other key words vetted in our research, such as creativity andÂ problem-solving.
Executive Summary 13 Using the Preliminary Taglines Recommendation 3. More rigorous research should go forward to identify and test a small number of taglines for a nationwide e Â ngineering-awareness campaign. The taglines should be consistent with the positioning statement and messages developed through this project and should take into account differences among target popu- lations. In the interest of encouraging coordination among outreach activities, the results of this research should be made widely available to the engineering community. Given additional resources, it would have been useful in this p Â roject to develop and test more taglines in context and to test the con- textualized taglines in focus groups. The results reported here should be viewed as preliminary, but the positive responses to several of our preliminary taglines in online testing suggest that they may be able to be used effectively for engineering-outreach projects. Developing a Shared Public-Relations Resource Recommendation 4. To facilitate the deployment of effective messages, an online public relations âtool kitâ should be developed for the engi- neering community that includes information about research-based message-development initiatives and examples of how messages have and can be used effectively (e.g., in advertising, press releases, informa- tional brochures, and materials for establishing institutional identity). The online site should also provide a forum for the sharing of informa- tion among organizations. One reason ad hoc efforts to promote public awareness of engi- neering have had limited success, at best, is that they do not convey consistent messages. In addition, because of the discontinuity and lack of coordination among these activities, effective metrics cannot be used to refine messages or improve outreach. The committee believes that, in the short term, consistent use of messages, even by a modest number of organizations, would be a huge step forward in promoting a more positive public perception of engineering.
14 CHANGING THE CONVERSATION Launching a Campaign Recommendation 5. A representative cross section of the engineering community should convene to consider funding, logistics, and other aspects of a coordinated, multiyear communications campaign to improve the public understanding of engineering. Over the long term, the committee believes a more explicit, coordi- nated approach to public outreach is likely to yield better results than we have obtained so far. Thoughtful targeting of the messages and further refinement of taglines will be necessary, but not sufficient, for success. Messages and taglines must be embedded in a larger strategic frameworkâa communications campaign. The most effective cam- paigns are driven by a strong brand position communicated in a variety of ways, delivered by a variety of messengers, and supported by dedi- cated resources. Effective campaigns also measure the impact of their activities and, most important, are given enough time to succeed. A campaign of the necessary size and duration to measurably improve the public understanding of engineering will require signifi- cant resources. Our consultants proposed a âconservativeâ price tag of $12 million to $25 million per year for two or three years. The commit- tee believes that, although this may be enough to initiate a campaign, the long-term costs would be much higher. Three concerns must be addressed for such an undertaking. First, resources on this scale are not likely to be provided by government or foundations. The engineering community, particularly large, influen- tial, technology-focused corporations, must be enlisted to support the campaign. Second, the committee believes that centralized planning will be necessary to ensure effective coordination and communication, which would require agreement by the major participants. National Engineers Week, a cooperative outreach venture in engineering, might be lever- aged for this purpose. However, the creation of a new structure may be necessary to coordinate a campaign. Third, metrics will be essential to determining the effectiveness of messages, strategies, and taglines. Although measuring the outcomes of public outreach efforts is notoriously difficult, a campaign of this
Executive Summary 15 scope must include a substantial evaluation component to determine what works and to improve upon elements that are not as effective as expected. A FINAL WORD The project described in this summary and expanded upon in the full report has followed a carefully designed process for develop- ing messages for public understanding of engineering. The approach utilized the services of professionals in the fields of communications and market research, and it employed quantitative as well as qualitative research methods. To ensure balance and accuracy, the committeeâs report and its findings and recommendations were carefully reviewed by an outside group of experts. The rigor of the study process should reassure the engineering communityâand others interested in this important topicâthat there is now a tested set of tools available to promote a more positive image of the field. The most significant outcome of this project is the recasting of engineering in the positioning statement. If it is adopted by the engi- neering community, it will not only reshape engineersâ self-image, but will also empower engineers to communicate more confidently with the public. As work continues on enriching, expanding, and disseminating messaging resources, the engineering community can take immediate action. Even if a national campaign is not immediately forthcoming, the creative implementation of the messages and taglines in this report can have an impact. Combined, consistent efforts by multiple organi- zations following the same âplaybookâ can create positive momentum toward making engineering more appealing and better understood by students, educators, parents, policy makers, and society at large. In this way, we may truly begin to change the conversation. References Cunningham, C., and M. Knight. 2004. Draw an Engineer Test: Development of a Tool to Investigate StudentsÃ Ideas about Engineers and Engineering. Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposi- tion. Salt Lake City, Utah, June 20â23. Washington, D.C.: ASEE.
16 CHANGING THE CONVERSATION Cunningham, C., C. Lachapelle, and A. Lindgren-Streicher. 2005. Assessing Elementary School Students Conceptions of Engineering and Technology. Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference and Exposi- tion. Portland, Ore., June 12â15. Washington, D.C.: ASEE. Harris Interactive. 2004. American Perspectives on Engineers and Engineering. Poll conducted for the American Association of Engineering Societies. Final report, February 13, 2004. Available online at http://www.aaes.org/harris_2004_files/frame. htm. (July 6, 2007) Harris Interactive. 2006. Firefighters, doctors, and nurses top list as âmost prestigious occu- pations,â according to latest Harris Poll. The Harris Pollï£¨ #58, July 26, 2006. Available online at http://harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=685. (July 6, 2007) NAE (National Academy of Engineering). 2002. Raising Public Awareness of Engineering. L. Davis and R. Gibbin, eds. Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. NAE and NRC (National Research Council). 2002. Technically Speaking: Why All Ameri- cans Need to Know More About Technology. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.