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Developing An Engineering Focused Narrative Television Series

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

The Role of Engineering in Public Policy

Tagged Division

Engineering and Public Policy

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.449.1 - 14.449.7



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Paper Authors

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Elizabeth Cady National Academy of Engineering

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Norman Fortenberry National Academy of Engineering

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Developing an Engineering-Focused Narrative Television Series Abstract

As a means to enhance technological literacy, attract more young people to careers in engineering and contribute to the sustainment of the national capacity for technological innovation, the Center for the Advancement of Scholarship at the National Academy of Engineering seeks to increase public awareness of the role of engineering. We seek to build upon our experience with previous workshops that have explored the representations of engineers and engineering in films and television in order to advance the implementation of a “prime-time” commercial television series that highlights the positive roles of engineers in modern society. A key first step was to have a committee plan and convene a forum wherein experienced producers, writers, and directors devoted one and one-half days in November, 2008, to discussion of key questions which will determine the viability of attaining an engineering- focused narrative television series. This project builds upon social constructivism and cultivation theory to offer the hypothesis that those who view positive television and/or movie images of engineers are more likely to believe that engineering represents a legitimate career field than are those who have not been exposed to such images. We seek to engage three sectors critical to the testing of our hypothesis – writers, directors, and producers—in order to lay the foundation for the conduct of a proper large-scale experiment. The potential broader impacts are increased public attention to, interest in, and support of engineering as a profession in general and as a career choice in particular.


Although engineers help to address basic human needs as well as broader societal objectives like improved health, quality of life, economy, and security, the general public has a distorted perception of engineers and the work they perform [1]. This distorted view exists despite expensive public relations campaigns aimed at educating the public about engineers and engineering. Accurate images are critical to maintaining the field through the recruitment of younger individuals, maintenance of national technological prowess in a global context, and improvement of the public’s general level of knowledge of science, engineering, technology, and the ways in which they relate to each other. On the bright side, Americans do view engineers in a positive light [1], indicating that developing a more accurate picture about the field could achieve the recruitment and literacy goals because it may be seen as a desirable and achievable career goal. A recent National Academy of Engineering report suggests a coordinated effort to provide this information [1], which could include an entertainment media element.

This element could come in the form of a prime-time television drama, as Norman Augustine suggested in 1992 when he proposed a show called “LA Engineer” that would showcase engineers in both their work and their personal lives as well as illustrate the exciting work of engineers [2]. In the intervening years that idea has not come to fruition, but entertainment media provide a vehicle to educate the public about engineering while entertaining them, which could improve the general public image of engineering.

Theoretical Framework

Cady, E., & Fortenberry, N. (2009, June), Developing An Engineering Focused Narrative Television Series Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--4648

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