In This Issue
Engineering for Women's Health
April 25, 2022 Volume 52 Issue 1
The articles in this issue describe the latest technologies for detection of breast and other cancers, approaches to reduce the incidence of premature births, and remote monitoring for pregnancy, a development of particular interest as the pandemic discouraged many people from going to a doctor’s office or hospital.

A Word from the NAE Chair: Implementing the NAE Strategic Plan

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Author: Donald C. Winter

Last October the NAE Council approved a new ­strategic plan for the academy, developed by a team led by our executive officer, Al Romig.[1] It is a concise statement of the vision and mission of the NAE, building on the objectives set forth in the original charter for the NAS, signed by President Lincoln in 1863 and applied to the NAE at its founding in 1964.

The strategic plan does not directly address the question of who should be elected to the NAE, but it has important implications for the academy’s membership. In particular, notwithstanding the substantial effort expended each year in identifying, nominating, and voting on new members, the strategic plan points out that the NAE is far more than just an honorific society. The plan clearly lays out our vision:

to be the trusted source of engineering advice for creating a healthier, more secure, and more sustainable world.

And our mission:

to advance the welfare and prosperity of the nation by providing independent advice on matters involving engineering and technology, and by promoting a vibrant engineering profession and public appreciation of ­engineering.

The strategic plan further notes that our principal strength, enabling us to fulfill our mission, is our ability to call on the academy’s elected members in business, academia, and government.

It is worth noting that, not too long ago, the NAE membership overwhelmingly came from academia. This is not all that surprising given the value that indi­viduals and institutions in academia put on recognition and awards for both promotional considerations and institutional prestige. Business has other priorities, among them protecting trade secrets, and often views the identity of its major contributors as a matter of confidentiality, in fear of poaching by competitors.

Recognizing the need to effectively reflect the US engineering profession, NAE leadership instituted incentives to achieve a better balance between new members from business and academia. These incentives have evolved over the past 2 decades as their efficacy has been examined. The net impact on our membership has been slow, but the infusion of new members from business has improved our ability to ensure that our advice reflects the many lessons learned applying engineering principles in the United States and worldwide. It should be noted that, with the increases in class size, the focus on members with a business background has not come at the expense of those in academia. This year’s class of 2022 has 42 new members elected from academic institutions, an all-time high.

The advice that the academy provides, through NRC studies and NAE programs, principally addresses areas of public policy that are influenced by engineering considerations. These are not simple matters of assessing the adequacy or correctness of engineering efforts con­ducted by others. They require an ability to put engineering questions in the context of public policy. In many cases, we are tasked with the need to define the problem to ensure that all relevant aspects are considered.

Questions addressing the realism, risks, likely costs, and schedule of an engineering effort must be complemented by the identification and assessment of ­collateral considerations, be they intended or un­intended. This requires a systems engineering perspective and the ability to provide a broader, societal perspective on engineering questions. But such a perspective is difficult to achieve if those so tasked fail to represent society at large. Furthermore, the credibility of our advice, as viewed by our clients in government and the public, is likely to be compromised if those who developed that advice come from a narrow sector of our society.

Our task is not to perform or assess engineering in a laboratory setting. It is to assess the broad implications of engineering writ large, to address public policy ­matters of consequence to society. Ensuring that the NAE membership can support such efforts—now and in the future—represents an important challenge.

Given the current demographics of NAE members, significant efforts are needed to identify the highly qualified engineers that will better represent all aspects of the diverse US engineering population. To that end, the council has approved incentives to motivate the NAE sections to search for and nominate membership candidates who come from underrepresented groups. It is my hope and expectation that these incentives will help the NAE maintain its objective of being a trusted advisor to the nation while motivating a diverse future generation of engineering leaders.

[1]  The plan is available at

About the Author:Donald C. Winter is chair of the NAE.