Would it surprise you to learn that the public is not uninformed about engineering, they’re just not interested? Don’t worry, it’s not personal. It’s simply that engineers, in general, have not portrayed the profession in terms of its life-and-death impact on the future of humanity. Anything short of that has a tough time capturing the interest of today’s information-saturated, entertainment-loving media consumers.
The amazing truth is that engineers really do deal in life-and-death, real-world challenges. They hold in their minds the ideas that will provide sustainable energy, safe and abundant drinking water and protect us from the threat of climate change. As if that weren’t enough, making those ideas a reality provides the fuel to promote our economic prosperity.
The National Academy of Engineering argues in a recently published report, Changing the Conversation: Messages for Improving Public Understanding of Engineering, that engineers must tap into the hopes and dreams of the public and recast messages to focus on the inspirational and optimistic aspects of the profession.
Civil engineers James Johnson, dean of engineering at Howard University, and Pat Natale, executive director of ASCE, served on the NAE committee that authored the report. Johnson will present the report’s key recommendations during a session at ASCE’s Annual Conference in Pittsburgh on November 8.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the report is the set of engineering messages it recommends. They were developed and tested for effectiveness with segments of the public including kids, parents and teachers. The report should be required reading for any engineer serious about public awareness. You can read it online.