Salt Lake City, Utah
June 23, 2018
June 23, 2018
July 27, 2018
Engineering and Public Policy
The joke goes something like this, “Question: how can you identify the extrovert engineer? Answer: s/he’s the one staring at your shoes!” Let’s face it, engineers have a problem with our visibility. When you ask the typical person on the street, “what do engineers do?” The single most common response is, “drive trains.” In 2002, the National Academy of Engineering published a report, Raising Public Awareness of Engineering, which documented that the engineering community has spent hundreds of millions of dollars annually in an effort to promote the public understanding of engineering. And all of this investment has yielded little fruit. In 2008, the NAE published a follow-up report, Changing the Conversation: Messages for Improving Public Understanding of Engineering, which summarized more than 18 months of effort by public relations experts and engineers to identify and test a small number of messages that show potential for improving the public understanding of engineering. Among the five recommendations presented in the report, the bottom line is that engineers need to “reposition” the public’s understanding of engineering and adopt language that emphasizes the positive impact of engineering in the world (i.e., “helps society”) rather than emphasizing the necessary skills (i.e., “math” and “build things”) and personal benefits (i.e., “high salary”) of a career in engineering. Although limited in scope of study, the preliminary messages that tested well included, “Engineers make a world of difference,” “Engineers are creative problem solvers,” “Engineers help shape the future,” and “Engineering is essential to our health, happiness, and safety.” In 2013, the NAE published their final report in this series, Messaging for Engineering: From Research to Action, which documented additional experience using the messages and outlined a series of “calls to action” to include “individual proponents who spread the (new) message in one-on-one and group interactions.” One “call to action” specifically encourages the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) to include a recurring session on “messaging” at the annual ASEE conference and at the yearly Engineering Deans Council Public Policy Colloquium. A search of ASEE PEER with the phrase, “changing the conversation,” shows a steady publication of approximately 25 articles per year, and while the majority appear in three divisions (Women in Engineering; Liberal Education/Engineering & Society; and Educational Research and Methods) it is encouraging to note that at least a couple of papers appear in many of ASEE’s divisions.
The purpose of this article is to highlight an opportunity that engineers may be able to use to leverage our desire to increase public understanding of our profession: namely, getting engineers on boards. In 2011, the now-named National Academy of Medicine (then-named the Institute of Medicine, IOM) published a report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health, which envisioned a bold future where nurses could bring, “a steadfast commitment to patient care, improved safety and quality, and better outcomes,” to serve as, “team members and leaders for a reformed and better-integrated, patient-centered health care system,” advanced by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). One of the four key messages of the report was, “nurses should be full partners, with physicians and other health professionals, in redesigning health care in the United States.” To support this charge, a coalition of nursing organizations representing the more than three million registered nurses (RNs) throughout the US created the “Nurses on Boards” campaign (see: https://www.nursesonboardscoalition.org/). Begun in 2014, the goal is simple, “10,000 nurses on boards by 2020 where board is defined as a decision-making body with strategic influence to improve the health of communities nationwide – including corporate, government, non-profit, advisory, or governance boards or commissions, panels, or task forces that have fiduciary or strategic responsibility.”
This article highlights the similarities among the objectives of nurses who formed the “Nurses on Boards” coalition and the objectives of engineers who formed the “Changing the Conversation” campaign. This article also summarizes demographic data from the US Department of Commerce comparing the nursing and engineering professions. And finally, this article outlines a zero-draft plan for getting “Engineers on Boards” as a way of achieving the objectives of “Changing the Conversation.” This article argues that positioning engineering leaders on boards creates individual proponents who spread the (new) message (of engineering) in one-on-one and group interactions where leader set a vision and role model attitudes and behaviors that impact large teams of followers.
Oerther, D. B. (2018, June), Leveraging the NAM’s 'Getting Nurses on Boards Coalition' to Promote NAE’s 'Changing the Conversation' Campaign Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30771
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