The Future of Engineering

On Friday, May 12, I had the distinct honor of giving the opening keynote address at the Washington Academy of Sciences 125th Anniversary Gala and Awards Banquet. It was a pleasure to recognize those worthy of the 2023 award and to celebrate the Washington Academy’s 125th Anniversary.

WAS_Award_May2023.jpgAnniversaries are more than a celebration of our past. They are a time to ponder past lessons learned, and then set our sights forward -- to the next 125 years.

Anniversaries are a time to ask: “What more can we do?” “What issues should we address?” “What actions should we take?” “What partnerships should we build to advance the academy toward synergizing science, engineering and medicine?”

National Science Foundation (NSF) Director Sethuraman Panchanathan, who was elected to the Washington Academy’s Fellowship last year, said it eloquently, when he stated: “This is a time when we are seeing fantastic new investments in science, technology, innovation, and discovery.”

I echo that statement. But I would be remiss if I didn’t add “ENGINEERING” to the mix.

Discovery and development, go hand in hand, and the latter often leads to the former. Engineering, as we know, is a prime enabler of economy, security, and culture.

This fact has informed our work at the National Academy of Engineering, which operates under the 1863 charter that established the National Academy of Sciences to provide advice to the nation on matters of science, engineering, and medicine.

Over the past two years, NAE’s strategic focus, and the work that it encompasses, has been centered on three interlinked themes: People. Systems. Culture. Our themes aren’t that different than the ones that have defined the Washington Academy’s work since its inception. Our purposes are complementary, which allows for greater opportunities to inform each other’s work and success.

Here are a few examples of where complementary efforts enhance Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our profession, and promote the skills needed to build a strong engineering talent pool.

  • NAE’s EngineerGirl introduces and encourages middle school-aged girls to engineering. The program has grown to include an Ambassador’s program that focuses on empowering high school girls to engage in engineering and consider engineering as a career path. Through its “Ask an Engineer” Q&A and video section, girls see role models that “look like them” who serve as role models. The NAE’s Inclusive, Diverse, and Equitable Engineering for All initiative – known as IDEEA – is expanding the scope of EngineerGirl to reach a broader segment of under representated groups. I’m proud to share that on May 9, EngineerGirl was presented the National Science Board Science and Society Award for its “extraordinary efforts to increase participation and diversity in the science and engineering fields.”
  • The Washington Academy of Sciences also has an impressive Junior Academy, which engages professional scientists as judges at local STEM fairs hosted by pre-college schools. This personal interaction places professionals in the forefront to meet with and serve as role models to high-school age students interested in STEM.
  • NAE has also supported the college-based Grand Challenges Scholars Program. This program is alive and well in universities nationwide – with a mission to engage college-age engineering students to discover, explore, and potentially solve, through engineering, the world’s grand challenges of Sustainability, Security, Health, and Joy of Living. More importantly, they allow engineering students to find meaningful ways to make a difference through engineering.
  • And finally, the NAE’s Grainger Foundation Frontiers of Engineering program centers on emerging engineering leaders from industry, academia, and government labs to discuss pioneering technical work and leading-edge research, expand their networks, ignite collaborations, and broaden their perspectives on new approaches to engineering problems.

By reaching students in the middle school years, and providing them engagement opportunities throughout their high school, college and early career years, we support their educational experience and improve opportunities.

Now is the time for organizations, universities, academia and industry to work together to bolster interest in STEM education and professions and strengthen the future of engineering.

Excerpt of remarks given at the Washington Academy of Sciences 125th Anniversary Gala and Award Banquet,
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial at the Grand Masonic Hall, May 12, 2023