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Addressing the Public Understanding of Engineering: A Case Study

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Engineering and Public Policy I

Tagged Division

Engineering and Public Policy

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.133.1 - 25.133.10



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Paper Authors


Mickey R. Wilhelm P.E. University of Louisville

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Mickey R. Wilhelm is Dean Emeritus and professor of industrial engineering. He was Dean of the J. B. Speed School of Engineering at the University of Louisville from 2003-2011, and has been a faculty member at U of L for 36 years. He received a B.S.E. in electrical engineering, and the M.S.E. and Ph.D. degrees in industrial and systems engineering from the University of Alabama, Huntsville. He is a Fellow of both the Institute of Industrial Engineers and the World Academy of Productivity Sciences. He is a licensed Professional Engineer in the commonwealth of Kentucky and is Emeritus Member of the Kentucky Board of Engineers and Land Surveyors (its Chairman in 2010). He is also an Emeritus Member of the National Council of Examiners of Engineers and Surveyors, and is currently a
member of the Board of Directors of ABET.

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Addressing the Public Understanding of Engineering:  A Case Study   The National Academy of Engineering (NAE), among other influential bodies, has recently asserted that, “despite the impact of engineering in our daily lives, most Americans do not understand what engineers do and are largely unaware of the opportunities available through an engineering education.”  As a result, they have implemented a formal program, called Vision, to assist in addressing the obvious media blind spot to the importance of engineering in solving the problems confronting society, and thereby to address the shortage of students who prepare themselves to study engineering while in K‐12.  Even before the NAE became engaged in this project, the author, then a new dean of a medium‐sized engineering school in the mid‐west, became concerned about this problem. His concern was prompted by members of the public commenting to him that his engineering school was “great,” to which he would reply, “thanks, why do you think that our school is great?” From their responses, it became apparent that the reasons for these opinions were grounded in the difficulty of gaining admission to the school, the rigor of engineering the curricula offered, and the success, or non‐success, of the respondent, a relative, or acquaintance in graduating from the school. No respondents cited the importance of engineering in society, nor referenced what engineers actually do in their responses.  Using funds from an endowment account, the author commissioned a company to conduct a scientifically designed survey of the public to determine the depth of commonly held knowledge about the school and its reputation, and, more importantly, the depth of understanding of engineering in general and what engineers do. The results of this survey then drove a publicity campaign that has been in effect for the past four years and has demonstrated some success in gaining the attention of the public to these key issues. This campaign was designed and implemented by a large local public relations firm, with the direction and approval of the author.  This paper will provide the background for the program, some results of the survey of the public, the guiding philosophy of the public relations campaign, examples of the actual media pieces used in the campaign, and an initial assessment of its effectiveness. The paper will also compare the similarity and differences between the NAE Vision program and that employed in the engineering school’s program as implemented. 

Wilhelm, M. R. (2012, June), Addressing the Public Understanding of Engineering: A Case Study Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--20893

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