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Summer/Fall 2008 Vol. 8 No. 2



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ŠImagezoo.com NAE Identifies Messages That Resonate


Rocket scientist. Sounds like a very interesting job, but are they really scientists? Most, in fact, are engineers who design and build spacecraft, which may be news to many people.

Research shows that K-12 teachers and students generally have a poor understanding of what engineers do, according to a new report from the National Academy of Engineering on improving the public's understanding of engineering. Even so, most people respect engineers and consider their work important.

"We found that engineers do not have an image problem," said Don Giddens, dean of engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology and chair of the committee that wrote the report. "That is good news, but we have a lot of work ahead of us to communicate to students that engineers are creative problem-solvers and can shape the future."

After examining current data and studies, along with producing and reviewing a survey of some 3,600 people, the committee found that the public sees engineers as being competent in math and science, though, unfortunately, many of them appear to consider this a barrier to pursuing engineering studies.

The report says that challenging young people to make an impact through an engineering career is more likely to attract them than emphasizing the challenge of math and science skills. Continued emphasis on math and science may damage rather than increase the appeal of engineering.

The committee also selected four tested messages that reposition engineering as a satisfying profession involving creativity, teamwork, and beneficial impacts. Those messages are:

  • Engineers make a world of difference.
  • Engineers are creative problem-solvers.
  • Engineers help shape the future.
  • Engineering is essential to our health, happiness, and safety.

The committee recommends that the engineering community begin using these messages in a coordinated communications strategy to strengthen the image of the engineering profession.

"Improving public understanding of engineering will enable people to make more informed decisions about technology, encourage students to consider engineering careers, and ultimately sustain the U.S. capacity for technological innovation," said Giddens.   -- Maureen O'Leary


Changing the Conversation: Messages for Improving Public Understanding of Engineering. Committee on Public Understanding of Engineering Messages, National Academy of Engineering (2008, 164 pp.; ISBN 0-309-11934-0; available from the National Academies Press, tel. 1-800-624-6242; $34.95 plus $4.50 shipping for single copies).

Don Giddens, dean of engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, chaired the committee that wrote report. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, with additional support from the Georgia Institute of Technology.



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Copyright 2008 by the National Academy of Sciences