In This Issue
Summer Issue of The Bridge on Changing the Conversation about Engineering
June 27, 2011 Volume 41 Issue 2

Changing the Conversation

Monday, June 27, 2011

Author: Ellen Kullman

Editor's Note

A major topic of conversation in the nation’s capitol, and the nation’s living rooms, is how well the United States will compete in the global marketplace of the future. The answer will depend largely on how well we, as parents, business leaders, teachers, and politicians, prepare our children and whether we can rally around education to give our young people the solid foundation they will need to build their future and ours.

I am proud to be co-chair, with my colleague Chuck Vest, of a new phase of the NAE initiative called Changing the Conversation. The goal of this program, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), is to excite and inspire young people to go into engineering-related careers.  

We want to interest students in who engineers are and what they do, to ignite a spark of invention and innovation, creativity and imagination to open young minds to the possibilities of becoming engineers. Students need to understand how engineers make a difference in their neighborhoods, communities, and the world by solving problems using science and technology, and that they, too, can join in those efforts. From safer drinking water to new medical devices, from electric cars to the grandest skyscrapers and bridges, engineers use their knowledge of science and technology to improve people’s lives in meaningful ways.

This issue of The Bridge is devoted to improving the way we tell our stories and engage and mentor young people so they “get it” and can take on the challenges of making a difference as engineers of the future.

In the first article, Chuck Vest begins by exhorting us, all of us, from politicians to business people, to move beyond our current situation and short-term problems toward solutions of the long-term challenges facing our nation and our planet. In The Image Problem for Engineering: An Overview, he addresses a variety of issues that are keeping us from working toward the goals of a well-educated, globally competitive workforce and a country with a vibrant economy and a healthy population with a continuing high quality of life.

Mitch Baranowski is founding partner and chief creative officer of BBMG, a marketing research firm in New York. As the grandson of a cattle rancher in Texas, he knows the literal meaning of “branding.” In his article, he explains how branding as a marketing tool can help establish a product, a company, or even a movement in the eyes of the consumer. Rebranding Engineering: Challenges and Opportunities focuses on the five laws of branding and how, in our new campaign, we can reshape public perceptions of our profession, shake off our outdated legacies, and rebrand engineering from the inside out. As he says, it’s all about delivering on a promise—and that’s exactly what we have to do—deliver.

Maria Ivancin, a professor in the School of Communication at American University, puts her everyday experience to work and walks us through the steps of building a coordinated outreach campaign, to reach today’s young people. In Framework for a Coordinated Outreach Campaign, she explains the architecture of a successful campaign from the ground up and the importance of image building, brand identity, and workforce recruitment that can put us on the road from research to action.

Reaching out to recruit students in new ways is the focus of Janet Yowell and Jackie Sullivan’s case study on Who Should Become an Engineer? With few students, teachers, or members of the general public able to describe what engineers do, the need to improve education and identify and nurture students with the desire and talent to study math and science is at an all-time high. The authors describe how consistent messages and recruiting materials are being used at the University of Colorado Boulder to convey how engineers help people and communities and that engineering can be a fulfilling, exciting career choice for young people. The heart of their message is that engineering is a helping profession that “shapes the health and welfare of people everywhere, as well as the health and welfare of our planet.”

Marisa Wolsky, executive producer at the WGBH Educational Foundation, describes Engineering a Change in Perception. Her article chronicles how WGBH has developed messages that promote positive images of engineering and how they have succeeded in delivering those messages and engaging young people in innovative ways by using multimedia outlets. The two projects she describes, Engineer Your Life (EYL) and Design Squad, have had a significant impact on the learning and understanding of science and engineering principles for girls and boys from a wide range of backgrounds.

Few professions turn as many ideas into realities as engineering. Few have as direct and positive an effect on people’s everyday lives. We are counting on engineers to help us meet the needs of the 21st century. We hope this issue introduces our readers to new ideas and suggestions for action that can change the conversation about engineering—for good.

About the Author:Ellen Kullman is co-chair of the Committee on Implementing Engineering Messages and chair of the board and chief executive officer of E.I. duPont de Nemours and Company.