2018 National Academy of Engineering Annual Meeting

Times of Accelerating Change Call for the NAE to Change with Them

54th National Academy of Engineering Annual Meeting
September 30, 2018

Welcome to this year’s annual meeting of the National Academy of Engineering, and a special welcome to our new members and foreign members on your induction day. I hope that you enjoyed last evening’s Great Hall dinner in your honor. We intended it to be one to remember—it is about the best event that the academy will ever host for you. That was my experience 30 years ago, and it remains etched in my memory. We do try to create a little magic for you. We are most excited that you are joining us. Welcome too to all members, foreign members, spouses, family and friends, the reunion group, and visitors from home and abroad. I also welcome our anniversary members who are recognized after 25 years of membership and at every 5-year interval thereafter. I am confident that you will enjoy this meeting, plus the opportunity to reconnect with classmates and friends from afar.

Once per year I have this opportunity to present some thoughts for you to consider about our significant plans for moving forward, to highlight an annual meeting theme focused on a current topic that affects all of us, and to present three major NAE awards: the Simon Ramo Founders Award, which is presented this year to Thomas Kailath of Stanford; the Arthur M. Bueche Award, presented to Venkatesh Narayanamurti of Harvard; and the Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education Lecture, which will be presented by Paul Yock of Stanford on his Biodesign program. It will knock your proverbial socks off.

Our theme for this meeting, “Privacy and Security in the 21st Century – Who Knows and Who Controls,” should fill the seats here because it is everyone’s concern. Fortunately, we have two distinguished plenary speakers this afternoon: Diane Greene from Google will talk about security of the Cloud and large-scale global data centers, and Mike Walker from Microsoft will talk about personal security for computers, phones, and internet-connected devices. They will clarify for us just how anxious we should actually be. And then at tomorrow morning’s forum with the same title, you have a rare opportunity to engage with four expert panelists on this topic: Mike Walker from Microsoft, Lea Kissner from Google, Aanchal Gupta from Facebook, and Batya Friedman from the University of Washington. You will be able to offer questions to them and explore the nooks and crannies of these privacy and security issues. The panel will be moderated and questions handled by our long-time, friend, Mr. Ali Velshi of NBC News and an MSNBC anchor and business correspondent.

We appreciate greatly the sponsorship for this meeting from Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. Their generous assistance makes this program possible. Truly, thank you.

President’s remarks

When I told my wife Patsy that I wanted to share with you some thoughts about the greater implications of accelerating change, her response was “what is that?” Stepping back, I recalled for her the change required to accommodate the systems, services, and apps on her new cell phone and the technician services needed for various updates and breakdowns. Many of you may have thought through the impact of accelerating change already, but I admit that I had not. I find it one of those “onion problems” that gets more deeply rooted and complicated as you peel away each layer.

When we think of accelerating change, technological change first comes to mind, like cell phones. What is new about the current environment is the breadth of changing areas, the speed of their global reach, and the scales of their impacts. New technologies and capabilities are literally changing our world: the internet, cell phones and the disappearance of land lines, biology-based security measures, global connectivity for all transactions, working environments without offices or even home bases, pilotless airplanes and driverless cars, and so on—these changes are coming whether we want them or not. As familiar alternatives disappear, many of us are left simply “hanging on to the lifeboat.”

And these tech changes often alter futures that people have spent their lives developing. Or they erase earlier employments from the marketplace altogether and require new talents that the workforce does not have and may never even have heard of. If the impact of the accelerating change is big enough, major workforce disruptions can occur.

I expect that none of this is news to you, but its seriousness is one reason that “accelerating change” occupies our attention.

While technological changes grab our attention first, their implementation stimulates further demands for change to support their consequences, be they social, medical, political, educational, governmental, environmental, judicial, or related to security, exploration, human rights, and other areas. As individuals, each of us grapples with these changes, and we adapt ourselves through what we hope are sound decisions.

What is not as immediately evident is that the same dynamism that individuals experience in adapting to change drives organizations to adapt to change. Hypothetically, where an individual may not be educated adequately for a changed employment demand and require adaptation through additional education, an organization may not meet changed service demands and require adaptation through new systems. So we should expect change for organizations to continue to accelerate, with demands requiring adaptation just as for individuals.

If we look at recent NAE history, we can see this process of changing demands requiring adaptations. Allow me to touch on some of them.

NAE Five-Year Strategic Plan (2016–2020)

In 2015 the NAE adapted to changing times when it created its strategic plan setting forth a five-year vision with six adaptation goals for

i. Membership representation,

ii. Industry collaboration,

iii. Public understanding,

iv. Ensuring engineering talent,

v. Global engagement, and

vi. Effective advising.

There was no change in the original mission of the academy from 1863. On the contrary, each adaptation enhances the NAE execution of its mission in a world being reshaped by continuing changes.

For instance, consider the first adaptation: membership representation. We aim to increase the representation of business, female, younger, foreign, and underrepresented minority members. This adaptation strives to rebalance the membership to better serve the advisory mission of the academy.

When the NAE was founded in 1964, the representation was simply: 50% of the membership derived its qualification for NAE membership while employed in business or industry, 40% academia, and 10% “other,” which is mostly government. By 2015 the NAE membership distribution was not well aligned with the mission of the NAE to advise any department of government. Accordingly, on the recommendation of the Council, the NAE members agreed to rebalance the membership over a five-year period, with the induction of new members guided in part by these needs for adaptation. The demand to rebalance the membership profile drove an adaptation through new member selection.

In each of the six goals, the demand driving an adaptation is about fulfilling the NAE mission in today’s times.

Consider a second example of demands stimulating adaptation.

National Research Council (NRC)

The hundred-year-old National Research Council (NRC), which is the studies arm of the three national academies, has experienced increasing demands by its sponsors and others for its adaptation. While the sponsors continue to appreciate the NRC consensus studies highly, many believe the time required to produce them is too long and the cost too high. Hence, a thorough, independent review of the NRC organization was undertaken in 2017 that has resulted in a plan for extensive restructuring.

The transformation will encompass nearly every operation of the NRC, including the support it provides to over 7,000 volunteers—academy members and nonmembers who serve on study committees and as report reviewers, board members, and content experts, among other roles.

This major organizational adaptation of the NRC is the direct result of accelerating demands from organizations outside the academies, some of which are NRC sponsors and others users of NRC products. Their demands for change likely cascaded down from organizations above them too. This cascade of demand to adaptation passes from and through organization to organization.

Sexual Harassment

Another area of accelerating organizational change is that of attention to sexual harassment , which has engulfed many organizations and sectors around the world, including churches, entertainment, news media, education, government, and athletics, among others. Many organizations have long tolerated sexual harassment by neither supporting adequately the victims of harassment nor sanctioning justly the known harassers. The call for adaptation has been demanding that organizations take explicit actions both to support victims and to control harassers.

A 2018 NRC study sponsored by the three academies, titled Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine,[1] points to the seriousness of the harassment problem for the individual victims and for the professions too, including engineering. I encourage you all to review this important report, which defines sexual harassment and its impacts. It is freely accessible on the academies website and the opening summary provides a helpful overview of the study’s findings and recommendations.

A key finding is the importance of an organizational culture that is, in both appearance and fact, intolerant of sexual harassment through increased transparency, proactive communication, and assertive responses when harassment arises. The perception of an organization’s practices on sexual harassment matters as much as its actions. If sexual harassment is perceived as not taken seriously, potential harassers feel emboldened to act without fear of consequences, and victims are intimidated and don’t report harassment for fear that no serious attention will result from it, that jeopardy to them personally and professionally will result from reporting it, and that no sanctions will befall the harasser. The victims’ perception is that reporting harassment is a lose-lose experience.

In short, organizational policies alone are not sufficient to suppress harassment. The leadership at all levels must communicate and demonstrate that the policies and procedures needed to create a culture that is welcoming to women are taken seriously, followed, and enforced in all cases. As Benjamin Franklin noted, “well done is better than well said.”

Based on this NRC study, an op-ed coauthored by study cochair Sheila Widnall, committee member Ed Lazowska, and me is scheduled for publication in November.

The NRC’s policies on sexual harassment and the adjudication of harassers extend to all individuals participating in NRC activities, which number in the thousands annually.

Closer to home, currently the NAE has no code of ethics for its members. Consequently, the NAE has no mechanism for controlling the behaviors of members who are not employees for any cause.

The NAE Council has initiated a process to establish a code of ethics for all NAE members and others participating in NAE activities. Because the Council is in the initial stages of developing this code, there is nothing more to report at this time, other than to note that the matter is being taken seriously and a proposed code of ethics can be expected. At present the councils of the three academies of sciences, engineering, and medicine are considering this matter independently. We expect that all will arrive at similar conclusions.

Sexual and gender harassment will fall under the code of ethics as the 2018 NRC study branded it as professional misconduct in faculty-student relations and in the engineering work setting. The leadership of the academy takes harassment seriously and commits the academy to ensuring a welcoming environment for all women.

Again, this is another instance where demand leads to organizational adaptation.

The Campaign for the NAE:
Leadership in a World of Accelerating Change

The US government has never provided base financial support for the NAE or the other academies. Funding for individual studies is negotiated with government agencies and others on a study-by-study basis, and costs are only partially covered by foundations. As government funding has been decreasing and foundation support increasing, this deficit financial model creates underfunding for the advice that is the central responsibility of the academy mission.

The necessary adaptation is to recruit more private support to ensure that the academy can fulfill its mission in areas where the NAE has leadership and is not, and cannot be, in competition with universities, industry, or the government.

To that end, the quiet phase of a major campaign began on January 1, 2016, and the NAE Council has just endorsed the initiation of the campaign with its announcement today. The academies-wide campaign will conclude on December 31, 2022, with a goal for the NAE of $100 million.

The campaign leads from strength, seeking funding to support strong, action-oriented programs that I call key enablers for addressing major challenges: EngineerGirl and the Grand Challenges Scholars Program for developing engineering talent; Frontiers of Engineering for sustaining engineering excellence; the Center for Engineering Ethics and Society to ensure the integrity of the profession; and, underpinning them all, funding to empower the NAE to fulfill its advising mission.

Empowering the NAE

The academy relies on real-time support from members to fill the funding gaps in its primary mission, such as unfunded requests for counsel, overhead costs not covered by foundations, and costs of member events and activities. Currently, the NAE has little capacity to respond to “big ideas” or unexpected crises. The underfunded advising mission of the Academy will be front and center in this campaign.


Girls need encouragement at an early age to consider engineering—middle school is a turning point. The EngineerGirl program provides information to middle school–age girls and their mentors about engineering fields and careers through a website that receives about 50,000 monthly hits by schools and individuals. The Society of Women Engineers collaborates with the NAE in working with girls through the EngineerGirl program. Women constitute 60% of the undergraduate student population but only 19% of undergraduate engineering students and 48% of the potiential workforce but only 14% of the engineering workforce, among the lowest representations of women by professional grouping. This problem needs serious NAE attention.

Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP)

In the 21st century, the engineering workforce must be prepared for the special demands of global engineering practice to be employable and successful. The Grand Challenges Scholars Program supplements any engineering curriculum by preparing students to engage in any global, socially conscious engineering initiative, including the NAE’s Grand Challenges. It is easily adoptable by all universities unconditionally everywhere. More than 100 US universities have or are implementing GCSPs and more than 35 international universities are also doing so. The initial goal is for 200 US and 200 international university GCSPs, and the long-term goal is much larger. More than half the GCSP graduates are women, outpacing the 19% of US undergraduate engineering degrees earned by women. The GCSP transforms any national engineering program into a global one, which accounts for its popularity being driven by the idea.

Frontiers of Engineering (FOE)

The FOE program is the profession’s premier networking opportunity for engineering leaders of tomorrow. It provides outstanding early-career engineers with a sense of community and pride in the creative accomplishments of their fellow engineers. The national and international FOE symposia held annually in the US and on a rotating basis in Japan, China, Germany, India, and the EU convene hundreds of selected young leaders on current and emerging topics where they are inspired to build their professional network. Election to NAE membership is highly selective and occurs many years after the FOE experience, yet in 2017 about 20% of new NAE members were alumni of the FOE program.

Center for Engineering Ethics and Society (CEES)

Engineering and technology create jobs and wealth and serve people and society; it is critical that these all occur ethically. Ethical challenges will increase as engineers tackle international and socially complex problems. Ethical practice is necessary to ensure both the integrity of the profession and public trust in engineers and engineering. The CEES Online Ethics Center provides a wealth of information and resources on ethical issues in engineering and technology for engineers, educators, and students, and in 2010 the Library of Congress selected its website for archiving in its historic collections of internet materials, thereby making it available to all through the Library’s public website. In 2017 the CEES website provided more than 480,000 page views to over 150,000 users in more than 25 countries. A respected center at a respected organization like the NAE provides a critically needed national service.

The Campaign for the NAE rests on the academy’s platform of unparalleled convening power, its reputation for integrity, its national standing, and the trust that the engineering community places in its findings and counsel. None of the campaign goals could be undertaken by universities, industry, or government, and this ensures the goals’ independence from competition and their concentration on needs that cut across the entire engineering enterprise. Investments in the NAE will inspire future generations of engineers.

Finally, the campaign highlights the NAE’s responses to the demands of both its mission and needed adaptations by raising the private funds necessary to meet those demands and fulfill its mission. In these ways the NAE is preparing future engineers for the benefit of the nation.

Concluding Observations

In times of accelerating change, we should expect that change cascades through people and organizations in a similar manner—with demands leading to adaptations that then lead to demands on other organizations and people, followed by their adaptations, and on and on. The demands on an organization affect its owners, leaders, supporters, employees, contractors, and customers, who adapt and pass down their demands to those serving them. In some accelerating technologies, like communications and information, the scales of demands on the global leaders and competitors and the cascade of adaptations that follow can be very large and even disruptive. It is a consequence of a globally connected world.

Few organizations or individuals are ever free of this demand-to-adaptation cascade for it is created by the recognition of superior advances in the marketplace and of the need for all to adapt while preserving their mission. The NAE is rising to the challenge of the need to adapt with its five-year strategic plan and this major campaign. I’m confident that these will effectively guide the academy in its adaptations, especially with the thoughtful engagement and generous support of all our members as we address these demands and embrace new opportunities.

Thank you.


[1] National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2018. Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Washington: National Academies Press. http://sites.nationalacademies.org/shstudy/index.htm