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Engineers Changing the Conversation

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Overview & Purpose

The National Academy of Engineering, an entity of The National Academies ([1]), has made it a primary goal to equip engineers with the skills necessary to comminicate effectively about their profession and those who practice it. The first step in accomplishing this goal was the publication of Changing the Conversation: Messages for Improving Public Understanding of Engineering, in which research-based results focusing on the development and testing of complelling messages regarding engineering were published. To further this inititative, a web platform was developed which encourages viewers to understand the threefold plan to increase effective communication regarding engineering: 

1. Understand the Problem(s)

  • Engineers most commonly want to be publicly perceived as partaking in a profession that is both challenging and important to society; however, the public often has difficulty understanding what differentiates engineers from various professions broadly catergorized as "science" and "technology".
  • Engineers unintentionally communicate off-putting messages in overly technical terminology, discouraging further conversation.
  • Many Americans do not fully understand the engineering profession or what it entails, and most believe engineers to be less engaged with community and societal concerns than scientists. This failure to understand the engineering profession often surfaces in the media as well.
  • Engineering is largely under-diversified; there is a significant need to enroll more women and minorities in engineering education.
  • The United States is fairly uncompetitive in its output of college graduates in engineering careers. Compared to Asia and Europe, America has an engineering graduation rate of 4.5%, versus 21% and 12.5%, respectively. 

2. Understand the Solution(s) 

  • The Naitonal Academy of Engineering has proposed four basic, yet inspirational messages that can be used in discussions regarding engineering, and has provided on-line examples of publications, brochures, news articles, etc. that utilize these messages to correctly demonstrate the value that engineers contribute to their communities and to society as a whole.
  1. Engineers are creative problem solvers
  2. Engineers make a world of difference
  3. Engineering is essential to our health, happiness, and safety
  4. Engineers help shape the future

3. Understand How to Take Action

  • Website viewers are encouraged to take action in their community, to understand what engineers do, and to help engineers become increasingly effective in their communication about their profession. These "Take Action" offerings include:
  1. Suggested examples, which are archived under the "Actions Taken" page to serve as a resource pool to those looking to promote awareness.
  2. The Changing the Conversation (CTC) blog, with updated writings and examples to share advice and experiences that promote constructive engagement in discussions on engineering.
  3. The CTC Tool Kit, which includes a wealth of promotional and educational materials such as posters and Powerpoint slides.

Distinct Differences From Other Offerings

While other offerings simply point to the reasons why engineers are not effective communicators, Changing the Conversation poses the question directly to engineers, asking them: "Engineers - How are you changing the conversation?" This, in turn, elicits a response that not only educates the viewer about possible solutions, but about the underlying problems. By educating both engineers and the public about engineers' common barriers to effective conversation, the solutions suggested can be found to be increasingly beneficial to overcome these prevalent issues.  

The website created for this purpose distinctly organizes suggestions for solutions and educational material in their "Tool Kit", described above.

Additionally, engineerings students and professionals can "join in the conversation" and sign up to receive email contact. This "facilitates dialogue among organizations that have developed implementation strategies for those that have exercised engineering messages and those that have not".

Impact Achieved For Students and Campus

Employing the specific messages listed above, students can associate their engineering education with a higher purpose towards their community and society, and learn how to effectively communicate these contributions to those outisde of the engineering profession. Understanding the common problems regarding the misconceptions of engineering is vital to having the know-how to combat these beliefs. Actively utilizing the brief messages promoted by the CTC Tool Kit while in the midst of engineering education will benefit students by preventing the eventual lack of effective communication experienced by so many of those in the engineering profession today.

Steps Required To Bring Resource to Campus

While the CTC is not a reource that is normally initiated in the form of a club or student organization on campuses, the creation of such an entity could have more significance to students versus brief presentations on the messages outlined above. Creating an entity on campus merely requires "joining the conversation" online, and using the resources provided to create awareness on campus regarding the effective communication of the engineering profession and its societal effects. Having a CTC organization in place on a campus would ensure that students in engineering schools would understand the increased value of their education and therefore the effective communication of its goals.

Contact Information

National Academy of Engineering

500 Fifth Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20001

Telephone: (202) 334 - 3200

Website: [1]