A better public understanding of engineers and engineering will benefit not only the engineering community but the entire country, and to that end the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) has developed messages and taglines for use in engineering outreach. As illustrated in the preceding chapters, the new messaging has been effective in various settings, but its adoption and use are not yet widespread in the engineering community. Broader implementation cannot be achieved by the NAE alone or by the handful of organizations that have taken up the new messaging. It will require the buy-in and participation of a significantly greater portion of the engineering community. And messaging, even if done effectively, is but one contributor to improved public understanding of engineering. Others include opportunity for K–12 students to engage in engineering design activities (e.g., NAE and NRC 2009) and participation of engineers in public affairs, such as through elected office.
In this chapter we lay out an action plan describing basic steps that all segments of the engineering community can take to help change the conversation about engineering. We also describe specific steps for individual segments of the engineering community—companies
that employ engineers, professional engineering societies, engineering schools, and others. Because each component has different capabilities and strengths, it makes sense that each should contribute in different ways. The most important thing is that the diverse members of the engineering community begin to speak with one voice, using the general approach outlined in Changing the Conversation, when talking about engineering and what it means to the people of this country and the world. We believe outreach by the engineering community will be most effective when it leverages the full range of outreach opportunities and communications media available.
The committee members carefully considered the proposed action items, agreeing that they had to be (1) doable without a major infusion of new financial or human resources and (2) likely to result in measurable improvement in public understanding of engineering. Most of the actions arose from discussions during the project’s December 2010 stakeholder workshop, which was specifically designed to elicit suggestions for moving the CTC initiative forward (see agenda in Appendix B); workshop attendees comprised about 40 high-level representatives from across the engineering community (see list of participants in Appendix C).
The committee recognizes that for many organizations there will be tension between maintaining their own brand and implementing broader CTC-based messaging about engineering. This tension is real, but we believe the unique missions of each segment of engineering will more often be enhanced than diminished by steps to improve the public’s general understanding of engineering. Industry’s bottom line, for example, may be aided by consumers who are more aware of the positive societal impacts of engineering. Engineering schools may find they have a more diverse pool of well-informed applicants to their educational offerings. Engineering professional societies may see an uptick in membership, particularly among younger engineers who want to be associated with an organization that promotes itself as “making a world of difference.” And museums and science centers could anticipate larger crowds for their exhibits that highlight the creative problem solving practiced by engineers.
Organizations and individuals across the engineering community (as well as nonengineers who believe in the importance of messaging) can take several basic actions that will contribute to public understanding of engineering.
The first is to 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. Do not assume that audiences understand “science and technology” to include engineering or that they even understand that the “E” in STEM stands for engineering. This same approach will also work for internal communications—those targeting employees or one’s colleagues. As more and more communications efforts become aligned with the CTC messaging, the potential for reaching large swaths of the public improves and the cumulative impact of these seemingly simple actions grows.
The second is to engage more fully with the CTC website (www.engineeringmessages.org) and Facebook page (www.facebook.com/engineersctc). Together, these resources provide practical help for effective messaging and opportunities to build a community of practice. They will have impact only to the degree that organizations and individuals take part. Participation can be as simple as linking to the sites, registering as a member of the CTC website, or liking the Facebook page. It can involve submitting examples of engineering-related messaging, writing case studies of how a particular messaging effort was developed and its impacts, or authoring a blog post. Both sites provide opportunity to express opinions, ask questions, and engage in dialogue.
In addition to these actions, we recommend that the engineering community’s efforts to use the CTC messages, taglines, and positioning be based on a view of the engineering profession as a whole rather than specific engineering disciplines. Messaging tuned to individual disciplines may be useful in certain situations, however, and cobranding by combining general and more discipline-specific messaging is certainly possible.
We recommend that all outreach to the public about engineering take into account the special urgency to reach girls, African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians, groups that data show are significantly underrepresented in engineering in the United States.
Because of their sometimes complementary strengths and abilities to reach different audiences, the various segments of the engineering community should make a more concerted effort to combine forces for more effective messaging. For example, some companies fund research in engineering schools or support programming in science centers and museums. These relationships can be leveraged to expand the reach and impact of engineering messaging. Similarly, engineering professional societies have faculty and student members in many engineering programs around the country, and both engineering schools and societies conduct outreach to K–12 schools. These common interests could be the basis for greater collaboration.
Finally, consistent with the second criterion that guided our choice of action items, we urge organizations that choose to use or adapt the CTC messages to include an impact-assessment component. 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 messaging.
In the effort to get people thinking and talking about engineering in new ways, one of the strengths of the engineering community is the variety of its components—industry, government, professional societies, engineering schools, science and technology centers, and the NAE—each of which typically uses different approaches and targets different groups in their outreach efforts. This diversity can be advantageous as each member of the community takes on different tasks.
Of all the entities in the engineering community, industry may have the greatest potential to improve public understanding of engineering. It has the resources, the personnel, the expertise, and the motivation to run advertisements or well-organized messaging campaigns prominently featuring engineers. Logically, part of the motivation for doing so would be the desire to improve the engineering pipeline: if more qualified students—including women and underrepresented minorities—can become engineers, the companies that rely on engineering talent will have an easier time finding competent people to hire. Furthermore, many companies could market their products in part by marketing their engineering workforce: “We make the world’s best widgets because we have the world’s best widget engineers working for us.”
Industry’s motivation and capacity to improve the understanding of engineering are clear. However, as noted in Chapter 1, efforts by industry have been fragmented and uncoordinated. Different companies promulgate different images of engineers, and the lack of a consistent message dilutes and weakens impact.
Thus the most important thing that industry can do to improve public understanding of engineering is to adopt a single set of messages, such as those described in Changing the Conversation. Of course, every company is interested in setting itself apart from others—in promoting its own brand—and that is certainly possible while still conveying a consistent and positive image of engineers and engineering, as illustrated by the examples cited in Chapter 2: Lenovo with its images of engineers in extreme environments, Texas Instruments with its “Thank an engineer” videos, Cisco with its presentation of women engineers discussing how they make people’s lives better, and so on.
The committee recommends that industry take the following additional actions to help change the conversation about engineering:
• In the next few years, a main goal for industry should be a significant increase in the number of companies whose corporate identity, recruiting efforts, product advertising, and outreach to the public feature engineers and engineering and use mes-
sages and taglines either directly from or comparable to those from Changing the Conversation.
• Companies should leverage their outreach and messages by collaborating more often with other segments of the engineering community, such as professional societies and 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 that would reach large segments of the US population.
• Many industries support volunteer outreach by their employees to interest young people in engineering. At DuPont, for example, over 100 employees involved in 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.
• Many companies exert a positive influence on diverse segments of society through philanthropic giving. Companies that conduct such activities should ask nonprofit organizations they support and that engage in engineering-related outreach to use the CTC messages.
• Companies that have the resources should consider investing in public service announcements that project a positive image of engineering consistent with the 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.
From the perspective of engineering messaging, there are a number of similarities between industry and certain government agencies, such as NASA, the Department of Defense, National Institute of Standards
and Technology, and Department of Energy. All are major employers of engineers, so it is in their interest to improve the diversity and of the engineering workforce. The National Science Foundation does not employ large numbers of engineers, but it funds research on engineering and on engineering education, and it promotes the value of science and engineering to the public. The US Patent and Trademark Office, while also not a large employer of engineering talent, plays a key role in evaluating the creative output of engineers and others. All of these agencies can demonstrate how engineering improves lives and shapes the future. Government agencies generally do not spend as much on outreach as large companies, but they do sponsor education outreach activities and communicate with the general public through websites, press releases, visits and presentations by individual employees, and the like.
The committee recommends that federal agencies take the following additional actions to help change the conversation about engineering:
• Education and outreach programs, such as NASA’s Summer of Innovation, should incorporate the CTC messages, as should all similar STEM-related government programs that support hands-on experiments and engineering design activities for schools, libraries, scout troops, civic centers, and other organizations.
• Whenever possible, government agencies should 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 on the CTC website.
• Training for federally employed engineers who take on speaking and mentoring assignments with students and educators should include exposure to the CTC materials.
• Agencies that provide funding through grants and contracts should create incentives for recipients of this federal support to incorporate CTC messaging in their work.
Engineering professional societies are different from industry and government agencies because they are member-driven organizations. They can therefore connect with the public on a more personal level, through member visits to classrooms or outreach engagement with other groups. The number of engineering society members is large— several hundred thousand—and they can be mobilized to contribute toward improving public understanding of engineering. With training, these members can be very effective ambassadors for spreading the CTC messages.
The committee recommends that engineering professional societies take the following additional actions to help change the conversation about engineering:
• To provide motivation and vision for working together to improve public understanding of engineering, the societies should develop and endorse an intersociety “memorandum of understanding” to guide their coordinated use of the CTC messages.
• Whether or not they are part of a memorandum of understanding with other engineering professional groups, societies should educate their 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 the National Engineers Week Foundation, described in Chapter 2), and by including articles and editorials about the CTC project in society publications.
• Many societies conduct outreach to teachers, students, and parents. Society-sponsored teacher conferences and workshops could focus on the theme of changing the conversation. And materials provided to K–12 teachers could suggest 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.
American Society for Engineering Education
The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) occupies a unique position among engineering professional societies as it does not represent a specific discipline. Rather, its members are engineering educators, and its mission is largely about improving the engineering profession as a whole, not just a narrow slice of it. ASEE’s influence extends through the hundreds of engineering and engineering technology education programs around the country, all of which are interested in attracting and retaining students, particularly girls and those from underrepresented groups.
• The committee recommends that ASEE leverage its special connection to engineering educators to broaden their awareness and use of the CTC messages. Specific steps might include creating a recurring session at its annual 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. To bring visibility, ASEE could select one program’s messaging efforts each year for special recognition with a one-page spread in Prism magazine.
National Engineers Week Foundation
Although not strictly speaking an engineering professional society, National Engineers Week Foundation (NEWF) engages many such societies in coordinated public outreach, particularly through its annual National Engineers Week (E-Week; www.eweek.org). E-Week includes a variety of programs and activities for the general public, some of which incorporate the CTC messages. As noted in Chapter 2, NEWF also developed a webinar-based train-the-trainer module to educate members of the engineering community about the CTC project and how its messages and taglines can be used. The committee recommends that NEWF take the following additional actions to help change the conversation about engineering:
• NEWF should continue to offer web-based, messaging-focused training to engineering student “ambassadors” and volunteers who do outreach to the community and to K–12 schools.
• NEWF’s corporate sponsors should be encouraged to incorporate the CTC messaging in their public outreach not only during E-Week but throughout the year.
Engineering schools have direct and sustained contact with both current and potential—and their parents, as well as teachers and counselors, and can thus influence students’ decisions whether or not to pursue engineering as well as their perceptions of engineers and engineering. The efforts at the University of Colorado–Boulder to implement the CTC messages, described in Chapter 2, can be a model for other 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 include new-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 future 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 and acting as
role models, using CTC-based messages. This kind of outreach can shape K–12 students’ impressions of engineers and engineering.
• Aim to educate their own 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 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.
Science and Technology Centers
Science and technology centers have a great deal of contact with the public. But whereas engineering faculty and students, engineers working in industry, and members of engineering professional societies may visit schools and other destinations, science and technology centers are themselves the destination. They are the target of field trips by children from elementary and secondary schools, and they host individuals and families. The Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) reported an estimated 62 million visits to its 345 US member institutions in 2010. Museums such as the Museum of Science in Boston, the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and the Tech Museum in San Jose, California, have developed exhibits and other outreach programs that address engineering issues, but as far as the committee is aware, few if any of these initiatives specifically incorporate the CTC messages.
The committee recommends that science and technology centers take the following actions as part of their contribution to changing the conversation about engineering:
• Insofar as possible, when designing new exhibits or revising existing ones, incorporate the CTC messages. 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 specific programs and outreach activities that have an engineering or technology focus.
National Academy of Engineering
The NAE occupies a unique position in the engineering community. It has relatively little direct contact with the public (although it is working to change that with the CTC Facebook page), but it fosters close relationships throughout the community. Through its convening and published reports, the NAE reaches and sometimes influences the thinking of important decision makers, such as state and federal lawmakers and leaders in industry, government, and academia.
The committee recommends that the NAE take the following additional actions as part of its contribution to changing 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.
There are opportunities for engineering messaging that lie outside the engineering community but nevertheless may be worth pursuing. One is the science- and engineering-focused DIY (do it yourself) movement, in which people build new or modify existing technological devices for amusement or specific practical purposes. The movement is gaining visibility in part through the spread of Maker Faire events, multiple-day
festivals celebrating creativity and innovation (www.makerfaire.com). The themes of creativity and innovation are consistent with the CTC messages and taglines, and the festivals’ family orientation would allow messaging to reach both children and adults. Funding for the festivals comes largely from corporate donors, many of which are technology-focused companies.
• The committee recommends that organizers of the Maker Faires consider both how engineering messaging can be included in the events themselves and how sponsors can be encouraged to use the messages in their own public outreach. Similarly, the publisher of MAKE magazine and its companion website (www.makezine.com) should consider how CTC-related messaging might be infused appropriately in their content.
There is a small but growing movement to introduce engineering into K–12 classrooms in the United States (NAE and NRC 2009). A number of groups have developed curricula for this purpose, and some of these materials have reached national scale. In the coming years, some of the existing curricula will undergo revision, while new curriculum projects will come on line. These efforts may take on new importance with the publication of the Next Generation of Science Standards in spring 2013. The standards are expected to include learning goals related to engineering design.
• The committee recommends that developers of K–12 engineering curriculum materials consider using the CTC or similar messages in their materials, promotional efforts, and related teacher professional development.
The biennial USA Science and Engineering Festival, described in Chapter 2, is another potential opportunity for broadening the reach of engineering messages. The NAE and the National Academies have used the messages at these events, but there are hundreds of other participating organizations that could incorporate aspects of the CTC
messaging in their festival exhibits as well as in their overall marketing and outreach efforts.
• The committee recommends that leadership of the USA Science and Engineering Festival consider how the messages might be made a more visible component of the event.
Like any effort to change public attitudes, improving the engineering “brand” to reflect the creativity of the field and its deep and powerful impacts on society is a long-term proposition. The NAE, through the Changing the Conversation project, has provided new language—a positioning statement, messages, and taglines—and new communication and collaboration tools (the CTC website and Facebook page) in support of this rebranding effort. In the end, of course, it will be up to individuals and organizations in the engineering community itself to take up and use this language and these tools. As our report suggests, the uptake has begun, but much more is possible and needed.
Going forward, members of the engineering community will need to spend more time, more effort, and more resources on consistent, effective engineering messaging. Although the committee does not specifically endorse the idea of a broad national advertisement campaign, comparable to “Got Milk” or similar efforts, such an initiative, with sufficient resources, the right message(s), and strong leadership, would surely be more effective than multiple efforts promulgating inconsistent messages.
As the national and global economy become more technologically sophisticated, it is vitally important to make engineering more understandable, accessible, and appealing to larger and more diverse US audiences—from elementary school students and their teachers and parents, to employers and members of Congress. The action plan described in this report lays out modest but potentially powerful steps for moving toward that goal.
ASTC (Association of Science-Technology Centers). 2010 Science Center and Museum Statistics. Available online at http://astc.org/about/pdf/Backgrounders/2010%20Science%20Center%20Statistics.pdf (accessed September 19, 2012).
NAE and NRC (National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council). 2009. Engineering in K–12 Education: Understanding the Status and Improving the Prospects. Available online at www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12635 (accessed January 24, 2013).