In This Issue
Summer Bridge on Noise Control Engineering
June 15, 2021 Volume 51 Issue 2
What is the role of engineering practice, education, and standards in mitigating human-generated noise? The articles in this issue survey these aspects of the US noise landscape, and offer updates and useful resources.

President's Perspective: Where Engineers Work

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Author: John Anderson and Lance Davis

The responsibility of engineering is to serve society and improve the quality of life. In support of these goals, the National Academy of Engineering celebrates and promotes the engineering profession in all its diversity, from the variety of engineering disciplines and applications to the men, women, and ethnic and racial minorities in engineering occupations and the variety of settings where they work—academia, government, nonprofits, and industry.

The NAE explicitly considers these factors on a yearly basis as it strives to elect new members who represent the totality of the profession. It is these ­members, highly accomplished in their fields of engineering, whose expertise ensures the credibility of academy and National Research Council reports, which are ­commonly referred to as the “gold standard” for government advisory reports.

The formation of the NAE was driven by a desire of prominent engineers to recognize the contributions of engineering in an academy parallel to the National Academy of Sciences, with a particular intent of recognizing the technical expertise of “practicing” engineers. The makeup of the first 25 engineers inducted in the NAE at its inception in 1964 was 52 percent from industry, 36 percent from academia, and 12 percent from “other” (government laboratories and military), indicating the strong industry bent of the academy at its formation.[1] This set an approximate benchmark for NAE work sector demographics, but over several decades the composition of the NAE’s elected classes shifted significantly toward the academic sector, causing a loss of connectivity with industry.

When talking about electing the top engineers in the country, we should understand where engineers are employed. With that in mind, and with a sense of both equity and mission, in 2015 the NAE Council set the US membership requirement for business/industry at 50 percent beginning with the 2016 election cycle. The elected classes of 2016–21 have met this requirement. While the percentage is somewhat arbitrary, a quota is necessary to reflect the demographics of the profession and to recognize the magnitude of engineering innovations that emanate from industry.

In terms of sector demographics, many more engineers are employed in industry (76 percent) than in ­academia (7 percent).[2] About 85 percent of NAE members have a doctoral degree, which may be suggestive of the strong academic presence in the NAE, but the fraction of engineering doctorate holders in industry (56 percent) is double that in 4-year academic institutions (28 percent).[3]

Of course, NAE members are chosen on the basis of accomplishments, not educational attainment, and engineers in industry drive amazing technological advances irrespective of degree. This is evident in the recipients of one of the world’s preeminent awards for engineering achievement, the NAE’s biennial Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering, which honors engineers whose accomplishments have significantly impacted society. Of the 56 Draper Prize winners, 66 percent have been in industry compared to about 16 percent in academia and 18 percent in government.

Some members have asked whether the requirement of 50 percent of members from industry runs counter to our parallel goal of diversifying the NAE with respect to gender and race/ethnicity. The data over the past 4 years indicate that this requirement is not an obstacle to the election of women and minorities: 51 percent of the members elected in 2018–21 are from ­industry; of these, 26 percent are women and 9 percent are underrepresented minorities. These values are largely comparable to the election of women (33 percent) and minorities (12 percent) from the academic and other sectors over the same time period.

If most engineers are employed in industry, their numbers should similarly include women and minorities. It is a matter of recognizing them. The NAE membership goals actively encourage such recognition.

The late NAE president Chuck Vest used to remark that, based on his personal contacts with members of Congress and their staff, they were very impressed that the NAE had a large fraction of members from industry. For them, it provided assurance that they were getting input from a broad base of the technical community, not only an academic view. To serve the nation, this is a perspective the NAE needs to maintain. It is important for the NAE to have the input of the business sector and for businesses to perceive the NAE as important and relevant to them.

[1]  Of the 35 members elected to the National Academy of ­Sciences that year, 34 were employed by universities and 1 by a medical nonprofit.

[2]  National Science Foundation Science and Engineering Indicators, S&E Workers in the Economy, figure 3-10: Broad S&E occupational categories, by employment sector: 2017 ( economy)

[3]  NSF Science and Engineering Indicators, S&E Workers in the Economy, table S3-6: Employment sector of S&E highest degree holders, by level and field of highest degree: 2017 (

About the Author:John Anderson (NAE) is ­president of the National Academy of Engineering. Lance Davis (NAE) is senior advisor to the NAE and former executive officer (1999–2015).