Making the Case for Engineering Study and Recommendations


Figure 8: Comparative Perception of Scientists, Technician, and Engineers



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Figure 8: Comparative Perception of Scientists, Technician, and Engineers








Scientists

Technicians

Engineers

Invents

11

2

2

Builds




10

26

Designs/plans

1

1

27

Is creative

3

1

3

Discovers

18

1




Pioneers

1







Measures




1

1

Works in lab

8







Conducts research

11







Equipment repair




15




Works w/ computers




9




Specially qualified in their field




6




Works with Electronics

5







Train Operator







5

Cures disease

9







Seeks Knowledge

6







Conducts experiments

5






This chart demonstrates that the participants think of scientists as inventors and discoverers; of technicians as having specialized equipment-related qualifications; and of engineers as builders, makers, designers, and planners.


Also, most people did not recognize the contributions of engineers to the areas where they have been instrumental: the development of new forms of energy, working in space, and the development of new drugs and medications. In general, scientists were more strongly associated with these activities.
Also shown in the Harris Poll data is the fact that adults do not consider themselves very well informed about or interested in engineering and engineers.

Only one-third of adults consider themselves fairly or very well informed about engineering and engineers, compared to nearly half who would say the same about science and scientists. Similarly, four in ten adults are interested in learning about engineering and engineers, compared to more than half who are interested in science and scientists.


Other studies indicate that most Americans are probably not technologically literate. They have little conception of how science, technology, and engineering are related to one another, and they do not clearly understand what engineers do and how engineers and scientists work together to create technology. Those are the major findings of a recent report issued by the NAE’s Committee on Technological Literacy 2002. In addition, the International Technology Education Association (ITEA) concluded from its 2001 survey that, "adults are very interested in but relatively poorly informed about technology" [NSF Indicators 2004].

In the ITEA survey, respondents were asked to name the first word that comes to mind when they hear the word "technology." Approximately two-thirds said "computers." Moreover, when given a choice of two definitions for "technology," 63 percent chose "computers and the Internet," whereas 36 percent chose "changing the natural world to satisfy our needs."

A majority of survey respondents (59 percent) associated the word design (in relation to technology) with "blueprints and drawings from which you construct something" rather than "a creative process for solving problems."

These data, however, are of limited value in understanding the public’s perception of engineers and engineering in a broader context. For example, they do not answer questions such as: What does engineering do for me? Do you want to be an engineer; if not, why? Is engineering research as important or more important than medical research? What impact has engineering had on society? What serious problems – environmental, security, health – demand new and innovation engineering solution? (The public may not even understand that engineers are capable of solving these problems.)


A
Figure 9
dditionally, the surveys do not provide any guidance (such as effective messages or outreach tools) on improving the public awareness and understanding of the impact of engineering. As shown in the 2004 Science and Engineering Indicators report (Figure 9), the public clearly relies on television for its general information on science and engineering, though the Internet has emerged as the leading information source for specific questions. This clearly demonstrates that not all outreach is equally effective in reaching the broadest audiences and having the most significant impact. If engineering wants to have meaningful impact, it will have to understand how the public receives their information, along with the messages that best connect to their needs and wants.
Even without such guidance, however, the engineering community continues to maintain an active outreach effort to improve the understanding and awareness of engineering. Corporations, professional societies, the National Academy of Engineering, and universities have all made commitments to public outreach, with an estimated annual investment of approximately $400 million [NAE, 2004].
Though evaluation of these programs is difficult, some programs could be viewed as successful in the short term (such as Great Achievements, Lemelson-MIT Innovation, and Engineers Week). Others outreach efforts have come along with lofty goals, yet failed due to lack of investment and broad buy-in, or they were localized and focused on a particular event or program.

The "lessons learned" from past outreach endeavors demonstrate that individual efforts can be very successful, yet tend to have very narrow impact. Larger scale "comprehensive" outreach activities typically lack effective messages, and fail to gain broad community buy-in and financial investment.






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