Messaging for Engineering: From Research to Action is the final report of a project undertaken by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) with funding from the National Science Foundation. The project goal was to support efforts by the engineering community to communicate more effectively about the profession and those who practice it. It was overseen by a 10-member advisory committee cochaired by Ellen Kullman, chair of the board and CEO of DuPont, and NAE President Charles M. Vest. The committee’s report builds on the 2008 NAE publication Changing the Conversation: Messages for Improving Public Understanding of Engineering (“the CTC report”), which presented the results of a research-based effort to develop and test new, more effective messages about engineering (Box S-1).
The new messages cast engineering as inherently creative and concerned with human welfare, as well as an emotionally satisfying calling. The 2008 report stimulated considerable interest among segments of the engineering community, and some organizations adopted or adapted the project’s messages in their outreach. This report summarizes progress in implementing the CTC messages, but also recognizes that there is potential to galvanize additional action and thus suggests
Four New Messages for Promoting Engineering
• Engineers make a world of difference. From new farming equipment and safer drinking water to electric cars and faster microchips, engineers use their knowledge to improve people’s lives in meaningful ways.
• Engineers are creative problem solvers. They have a vision for how something should work and are dedicated 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, it is impossible to imagine life without engineering.
NOTE: Adapted from NAE (2008).
specific steps for major players in the engineering community to continue and build on progress to date. Many of the report’s recommendations resulted from discussion at a December 2010 committee workshop that involved several dozen high-level decision makers representing key stakeholder groups in the engineering community.
SAMPLES OF IMPLEMENTATION
Since the 2008 release of the CTC report, a number of institutions have either directly used or adapted its messages and related “taglines.” The Society of Women Engineers, for example, reworked all of its print and web-based messaging products to align with the CTC positioning statement and messages. At the University of Colorado– Boulder, the College of Engineering undertook a major rebranding effort that included the redesign of recruiting brochures and posters that now feature CTC messages. Increases in enrollment and retention of minority and women students at the college may in part be
attributable to the effect of messaging. The Engineer Your Life website (www.engineeryourlife.org), the centerpiece of a national campaign to encourage college-bound girls to explore engineering, is using some of the CTC messages as well as messages similar in content. The site also links to an Engineer’s Pledge on Facebook (www.facebook.com/engineerpledge), which asks engineers to agree to use CTC-infused language when they talk to the public. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers–USA used the CTC message “Engineers make a world of difference” as the basis of an annual $5,000 scholarship contest for undergraduate students, with the challenge of creating a 90-second video promoting engineering to 11- to 13-year-olds. The National Engineers Week Foundation (NEWF) has used CTC messages and taglines to promote its Future City competition and in ads in USA Today announcing its New Faces in Engineering program, which recognizes the work of early-career engineers. And the NAE has spread the CTC messages and taglines by linking them to its Grand Challenges for Engineering project (www.engineeringchallenges.org) and to the nomination process for the Bernard M. Gordon Prize, a $500,000 award that recognizes innovations in engineering and technology education.
In addition, a number of large, well-known companies, including DuPont, Texas Instruments, Cisco, Exxon Mobil, GE, and Lockheed Martin, have produced advertising or recruiting materials that reflect the spirit of Changing the Conversation. They focus on the value of engineering to people’s lives and on the creativity of the engineering profession, and show that a career in engineering is within reach for many young people who have vision and a desire to solve problems and help people.
CREATION OF ADDITIONAL CTC-RELATED TOOLS
The NAE has also developed tools to help spread the CTC messages, including an interactive website (www.engineeringmessages.org) that provides background on the issue of public understanding of engineering; features nearly 140 examples of engineering messaging efforts; and includes free, downloadable CTC-branded posters, book-
marks, and door hangers. To encourage sharing via social media, nearly every page has tabs for Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. With support from the United Engineering Foundation (www.uefoundation.org; UEF), the NAE also created a Facebook site (www.facebook.com/engineersctc) to complement the CTC website.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
As has been clear since before publication of the CTC report, propagating a new image of engineering will require not just websites and marketing campaigns but also the work of many individual proponents who spread the message in one-on-one and group interactions.
To this end, the committee has prepared an action plan that describes (1) basic steps for all segments of the engineering community to help change the conversation about engineering and (2) specific steps for individual segments of the engineering community.
Call to Action: Basic Steps
Organizations and individuals across the engineering community (as well as nonengineers who believe in the importance of engineering) can take several basic actions that will contribute to public understanding of engineering.
• Make explicit use of the words “engineer” and “engineering” and express the CTC positioning more frequently in public communications, such as press releases, radio and television advertising, websites, social media (e.g., Facebook and Twitter), speeches, and personal email signature blocks. This approach can also be incorporated in internal communications to employees or colleagues.
• Engage more fully with the CTC website (www.engineeringmessages.org) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/engineersctc). These resources provide practical help for effective messaging and opportunities to build a community of practice.
• Use the CTC messages and taglines with a view of the engineering profession as a whole. That said, messaging tuned to individual disciplines may be useful in certain situations, and “cobranding” by combining general and discipline-specific messaging is certainly possible.
• Take into account the importance of reaching girls, African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians, groups that data show are significantly underrepresented in engineering in the United States.
• Assess the impact of using or adapting the CTC messages. Ideally, such evaluation should be included up front in the design of the messaging effort rather than as an add-on after the fact. As much as possible, measures of impact should include not only “inputs,” such as the number of visits to a website, but also “outputs” that reflect changes in attitudes or behavior—for example, students’ views of engineering—as a result of exposure to the CTC messages.
Call to Action: Industry
The committee recommends that industry take the following actions to help change the conversation about engineering:
• Increase the number of companies whose corporate identity, recruiting efforts, product advertising, and outreach to the public feature engineers and engineering and use messages and taglines either directly from or comparable to those from Changing the Conversation.
• Leverage outreach and messages by collaborating more often with other segments of the engineering community, such as professional societies and engineering colleges. They could also collaborate among themselves through such mechanisms as the Council on Competitiveness, Business Roundtable, and Change the Equation to create consistent, CTC-based messaging for large segments of the US population.
• Support volunteer outreach by employees to interest young people in engineering. At DuPont, for example, more than 100 employees involved in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) outreach were trained in the use of the CTC messages; similar training was provided to company staff volunteering at engineering events for the Girl Scouts and for over 20 high schools near the company’s headquarters. Industry efforts like these should continue, expand if possible, and be modified to align with the CTC messages.
• Exert a positive influence on diverse segments of society through philanthropic giving. These companies should ask nonprofit organizations that they support and that engage in engineering-related outreach to use the CTC messages.
• Consider investing in public service announcements that project a positive image of engineering consistent with CTC messaging. Such efforts could be tied to television programming that connects to engineering in some way, such as Discovery Channel’s Extreme Engineering and MythBusters, the Science Channel’s Strip the City, and PBS’s Design Squad.
Call to Action: Government Agencies
The committee recommends that government agencies take the following actions to help change the conversation about engineering:
• Incorporate the CTC messages in education and outreach programs, such as NASA’s Summer of Innovation, and in all STEM-related government programs that support hands-on experiments and engineering design activities for schools, libraries, scout troops, civic centers, and other organizations.
• Collaborate with other segments of the engineering community to advance the goal of changing the conversation—for example, by working with industry partners in outreach programs or regularly participating in the CTC website.
• Incorporate the CTC materials in training for federally employed engineers who take on speaking and mentoring assignments with students and educators.
• Create incentives for recipients of federal grants and contracts to incorporate CTC messaging in their work.
Call to Action: Engineering Professional Societies
The committee recommends that engineering professional take the following actions to help change the conversation about engineering:
• To provide motivation and vision for working together to improve public understanding of engineering, develop and endorse a shared “memorandum of understanding” to guide coordinated use of the CTC messages.
• Educate members about the messages and how to use them. This could be done, for instance, by offering training sessions at society-sponsored conferences and workshops, through webinars (like those sponsored by NEWF, described in Chapter 2), and by including articles and editorials about the CTC project in society publications.
• Conduct outreach to teachers, students, and parents. Society-sponsored teacher conferences and workshops could focus on the theme of Changing the Conversation, and materials for K–12 teachers could explain how engineering makes the world better, reflecting one of the main CTC themes. Communications about the engineering profession as a whole should be the main focus, but messages tuned to individual disciplines are also useful.
Call to Action: American Society for Engineering Education
The committee recommends that the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) leverage its special connection to engineering educators to broaden their awareness and use of the CTC messages. Specific steps might include the addition of a recurring session at the annual ASEE conference and at the yearly Engineering Deans Council Public Policy Colloquium to review and encourage discussion of efforts to improve engineering messaging in engineering education programs
around the country. ASEE could also provide visibility by selecting one program’s messaging efforts each year for special recognition and featuring the program in a one-page spread in Prism magazine.
Call to Action: National Engineers Week Foundation
The committee recommends that NEWF take the following actions to help change the conversation about engineering:
• Continue to offer web-based, messaging-focused training to engineering student “ambassadors” and other volunteers who do outreach to the community and to K–12 schools.
• Encourage corporate sponsors to incorporate the CTC messages in their public outreach not only during E-Week but throughout the year.
Call to Action: Engineering Schools
The committee recommends that engineering schools take the following actions to help change the conversation about engineering:
• Explain the CTC messaging approach to faculty and staff, describing its rationale and the evidence for its usefulness. This might be done in faculty orientation workshops or other training sessions that lay out explicitly how to use the CTC messages and taglines to shape how students and potential students think about engineering.
• Spread the CTC messages to current and potential students by, for example, incorporating the CTC messages and taglines in the recruiting and outreach programs of the engineering school. Such efforts need not be directed only to high school juniors and seniors and university students who have not yet decided on a major.
• Work with schools of education so that future K–12 teachers are aware of what engineering is and what engineers do, and encourage schools of education to use CTC-based messages.
• Encourage engineering undergraduates to volunteer in K–12 classrooms doing engineering design projects, acting as role models, and using CTC-based messages. This kind of outreach can shape K–12 students’ impressions of engineers and engineering.
• Aim to educate students consistent with the image of engineering outlined in Changing the Conversation. If K–12 students are attracted to engineering by the opportunity to both engage their creativity and help people, the undergraduate engineering curriculum should reflect those qualities. Some schools may wish to use the Grand Challenges for Engineering (www.engineeringchallenges.org) to inspire students to think about problems whose solutions will make a “world of difference.” Engineering students educated in these ways can themselves become ambassadors for spreading the CTC messages.
Call to Action: Science and Technology Centers
The committee recommends that science and technology centers take the following actions to help change the conversation about engineering:
• When designing new exhibits or revising existing ones, incorporate the CTC messages to the extent possible. Exhibits and other programming at science and technology centers can educate the public about engineering in very engaging ways, and this capacity should be leveraged to deliver the CTC messages compellingly and memorably.
• Involve engineers from academia, professional societies, and industry in programs and outreach activities that have an engineering or technology focus.
Call to Action: National Academy of Engineering
The committee recommends that the NAE take the following actions to help change the conversation about engineering:
• Continue to spread ideas from the CTC project and to promote communication and actions that support public understanding of engineering. This report is the most recent such effort.
• Maintain the CTC website and Facebook page until they are deemed no longer useful. This could be done by the NAE alone or in partnership with other engineering organizations.