Encouraging young people to make a difference in the world through an engineering career is more likely to attract them than emphasizing the challenge of math and science skills, according to a recent report by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the IEEE. The report, "Changing the Conversation: Messages for Improving Public Understanding of Engineering," recommends that the engineering community begin using tested messages in a coordinated communications strategy.

The report presents and discusses findings from qualitative and quantitative research, including an online survey of 3600 people. Because African Americans and Hispanics are underrepresented in engineering schools and careers, the survey included large numbers of both groups.

In addition to testing the appeal, believability and relevance of a handful of different messages, the project also collected data on a set of tag lines, or slogans. The four messages that tested best were: 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.

"Improving public understanding of engineering will enable people to make more-informed decisions about technology, encourage students to consider engineering careers, and ultimately sustain the U.S. capacity for technological innovation," said Don Giddens, dean of engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology and chair of the NAE committee that wrote the report.

Using the committee's research and expertise in engineering education and communications, the report offers tested messages that reposition engineering as a satisfying profession that involves creative ideas and teamwork — not just personal benefits and technical skills. It also recommends strategies and tools that the engineering community may use to conduct more effective outreach. View the NAE report as a PDF.