2019 National Academy of Engineering Annual Meeting

Welcome to the NAE

55th National Academy of Engineering Annual Meeting
October 6, 2019

Welcome to the National Academy of Engineering 2019 annual meeting. It is my honor to address this very distinguished gathering for the first time as president of the NAE. I look forward to serving this extraordinary institution, and I thank the membership for entrusting me with this important responsibility.

I thank Dan Mote for his excellent leadership as president for the past six years, and I look forward to continuing to work with chair Gordon England and the members of the NAE Council and NAE staff.

We have many significant initiatives underway, and we will continue to explore ways to meet the NAE’s mission to advance the well-being of our nation by promoting a vibrant engineering profession and engaging the expertise and insights of accomplished engineers like those of you being inducted today.

I’ll begin with some background about the NAE and its sister academies.

President Lincoln signed a congressional charter that created the National Academy of Sciences in 1863 because he saw an urgent need for the government to have a source of independent scientific advice. The National Academy of Engineering expanded that role in 1964 with its creation as a sister organization to the NAS, and in 1970 the Institute of Medicine—which recently became the National Academy of Medicine—was established.

The National Research Council (NRC) was formed in 1916 “to bring into cooperation government, educational, industrial, and other research organizations” to advance science, aid development of American industries, strengthen national defense, and promote national security and welfare. We call our overall organization the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM).

Along with that background, I should point out that the Academies are not part of the government, and this is by design. Our work is independent—there is no federal line item for us, or any Congressional appropriation, as many may think. We are dependent on sponsors, donors, and volunteers to do the vital work of the NAE.

Election to the three Academies is a high honor but, like a university commencement (which today’s induction will resemble), it is just the beginning. Your participation in NAE and NRC activities is crucial. We need your expertise as well as your bold and creative ideas.

Let me highlight just a few of the things we’re now doing.

I recently returned from a remarkable event in London, the Global Grand Challenges Summit. It was the 4th in a series that’s collaboratively organized by the NAE and similar academies in the UK and China. The series was inspired by the NAE’s Grand Challenges for Engineering, 14 goals spanning sustainability, health, security, and joy of living, outlined in a highly influential 2008 NAE report.

These summits, which take place every two years, are aimed at sparking progress in addressing the challenges by inspiring future engineering leaders and promoting international cooperation on our shared visions. At this year’s event,

  • There were more than 30 speakers and almost 1,000 attendees—nearly half of which were students, from numerous countries—and lots of networking opportunities.
  • There was a student business plan competition and a Collaboration Lab in which mixed-country student teams brainstormed solutions to important problems; 300 students participated—100 each from the US, UK, and China.

We hope many of the connections made there will continue beyond the summit and we will work to facilitate that.

The next Grand Challenges Summit will be held in Beijing in 2021.

Another initiative inspired by the NAE Grand Challenges is the NAE Grand Challenges Scholars Program, aimed at equipping future engineers to tackle the biggest issues of our time. It focuses on five competencies: talent through research, working across multiple disciplines, multicultural experiences, entrepreneurship, and social consciousness.

Launched in 2010 at just 3 schools, now there are almost 80 active programs and a similar number in development. A dozen of those are outside the United States, with more on the way.

It’s worth noting that more than half the students in the Grand Challenges Scholars Program are women, and many more come from underrepresented groups. In addition to building change makers, the program is helping to meet the important goal of making our profession more diverse and inclusive.

EngineerGirl, aimed mainly at middle schoolers, was launched as a resource website in 2001. It has grown to include a number of interactive programs with opportunities for girls.

For example, a Gallery of Women Engineers features profiles of more than 300 women in different fields of engineering who volunteer their time to answer questions for students. And this year we started a feature with multiple perspectives on engineering-related questions of particular interest to young girls.

Since 2003, EngineerGirl has had a yearly writing contest asking students for their ideas on various topics. Last year we received over 14,000 submissions.

EngineerGirl now has an Ambassadors Program that encourages high school girls to reach back and introduce younger girls to engineering through ambitious projects that include afterschool tutoring, summer camps, workshops…and a Girl Scouts Expo that resulted in 16 new girls’ robotics clubs!

I wish to highlight one very impressive student from this pool, Gitanjali Rao, who is a two-time writing contest prize winner and was the keynote speaker at the GGCS in London. Gitanjali is only 13 years old but very mature for her age, with charisma, intellect, and great communication skills. I was supposed to follow her on the stage, but after I met her I decided this would not be a wise idea for me. She’s too good! As president of the NAE I didn’t want to be upstaged by a 13-year-old. So I made a plan to have another person speak before me and postponed my remarks until later. It worked—and the NAE’s image is still intact!

The Frontiers of Engineering program brings together highly accomplished early-career engineers from companies, universities, and government or nonprofit organizations—both in the United States and from many other countries—to learn about leading-edge research and technology in a range of engineering fields.

FOE will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2020. The first FOE symposium was held in 1995, and this year we held our 25th meeting at the Boeing Dreamliner factory in North Charleston, South Carolina.

The Frontiers of Engineering program is supported by The Grainger Foundation as well as several government agencies and companies. In-kind support is provided by companies, universities, and federal labs that host individual meetings. We also receive support from NAE members and FOE alumni.

At this year’s US Frontiers of Engineering meeting the percentage of male and female attendees was just about even—51 percent and 49 percent, respectively. And the breakdown by employment sector was 44 percent each from industry and academia, and 12 percent from government and other organizations.

We are always delighted when FOE alumni are elected to the NAE. Since the program started, 110 FOE alumni have been elected, including 17 percent of this year’s class.

The NAE’s quarterly The Bridge is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary. It is among the most popular pages on the NAE website. The Bridge and all our publications are available free of charge online.

Issues this year focused on Technologies for Aging that facilitate both independence and quality of life; Engineering for Disaster Resilience, on infrastructure innovations; and Cybersecurity.

Each issue also includes interviews with engineers who are doing interesting things, especially outside of the engineering profession. The fall issue features an interview with mechanical engineer and TV host Deanne Bell, who will moderate our forum tomorrow on human space flight. I am very much looking forward to it.

I am proud to report that NAE members are active across the National Academies divisions that conduct studies and issue consensus reports. In this past year, for example, we have been fortunate to have NAE member involvement in three very different studies.

The first one I’ll mention is a report on Strategic Long-Term Participation by DoD in Its Manufacturing USA Institutes, which are considered crucial and game-changing catalysts that are bringing together innovative ecosystems in various technology and market sectors critical to DoD and the nation. This report, in partnership with the Academies’ Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences, reviews the role of DoD’s investment to date in establishing its eight institutes as public-private partnerships and its engagement with each institute after it has matured beyond the start-up period.

Next is a report on transportation, Renewing the National Commitment to the Interstate Highway System. This congressionally requested report, chaired by Norm Augustine and issued by the Academies’ Transportation Research Board, makes recommendations on the “features, standards, capacity needs, application of technologies, and intergovernmental roles to upgrade the Interstate System.” It also suggests a path forward to meet the growing and shifting demands of the 21st century.

And from the Academies’ Health and Medicine Division comes the report Guiding Cancer Control. As we know, cancer is in effect a system of different diseases that afflict individuals in myriad ways. Its burdens are equally broad and diverse, from the physical, financial, and psychological tolls it imposes on individuals to the costs it inflicts on the nation’s clinical care and public health systems. Using a complex systems engineering approach, this report breaks new ground in advancing our thinking about how to shape and significantly improve our approaches to advance cancer control.

These and other studies are possible because the NAE, and the broader National Academies, have tremendous convening power. We can bring together the very best minds in the country—even the world—to advise policymakers and others about ways to address some of the greatest national and global problems. In 2018, 361 NAE members participated in studies of the NAE and National Academies.

As the new NAE president, I have thought about four ways the NAE can contribute further to the national good:

  • Identify and inform the frontiers of engineering theory, practice, and policy.
  • Increase engineering talent through a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion.
  • Instill a culture of ethical and environmental responsibility in engineering.
  • Improve capabilities and competencies for complex systems engineering.

For all these priorities, member engagement is important, and I look forward to working with all of you, including the members of the class of 2019. There were 506 nominations for members, of which only 86 were elected, and 17 foreign members were elected from 79 nominations. The process is very selective because all the nominations were strong. It’s not easy being elected to NAE membership, so we are inducting very special people today.

In celebrating your election, we are also celebrating your families, friends, and colleagues. I would now like to acknowledge the families of the class of 2019—would you please stand so we can thank you for your support?

Before we begin the induction ceremony, I want to briefly address the difference between a scientist and an engineer. I thought of a story told to me by a friend that illustrates the difference.

A scientist and an engineer went hiking in the wilderness. At the end of the day, they pitched their tent, enjoyed dinner, and went to sleep.

After a few hours the engineer wakes the scientist and says, “Look toward the sky. What do you see?”

The scientist replies, “I see millions of stars”.

The engineer says, “What does that tell you?”

The scientist says, “Astronomically speaking, it tells me there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Saturn is in Leo. Time-wise, it appears to be approximately 3:30 in the morning. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.”

Then the scientist turns to the engineer and says, “What does it tell you?”

The engineer replies, “Somebody stole our tent.”

With that, congratulations again on your election to the NAE. I look forward to working with all of you in the coming months and years.