In Search of an Icon

If we want engineering to be more broadly accepted by mainstream society and the media, we need to define what an engineer looks like. The field of engineering has become larger and more encompassing over time.

Engineers come in all forms.  There are currently 2.3 million engineers, engaged in everything from design to sales to testing, manufacturing, training, and marketing. You can find engineers working in the field, behind a desk, in a production plant, at a customer site, or even on an airplane. Engineers design, manufacture, build, research, write, investigate and present their findings. It’s easy to think of engineers designing rides at Disney or crawling around inside of a bridge to check for stress cracks – we know what that looks like but what about the engineers who don’t design our modern conveniences and structures? How do we show an appealing image of an engineer who is checking air quality or researching new and safer ways to dispose of compact fluorescent light bulbs?  How do we show students the image of an engineer who is trying to find ways to save animals on the brink of extinction? How do we show an engineer who is working on developing safer foods, less hazardous farming techniques or ways to cut down on crime? That’s a lot of job descriptions and categories to narrow into one icon that defines an engineer.

If Hollywood can make CSI shows look good to students (forensic scientists often study dead people for clues), we can definitely find a way to make engineering look more appealing too. And it starts with an icon or symbol that we can associate with an engineer.

All ideas are welcome!

A Revolution Has Begun

Engineering education is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Just as engineers find solutions to particular situations and problems, the strategies you adopt to recruit, retain, and attract underrepresented populations will have to be custom tailored or engineered to fit your particular situation – and there are many viable approaches. In addition, between engineering and engineering technology, there are over 100 degree programs available and countless specialties within the degrees.

Fortunately, a revolution to prioritize engineering education has earnestly begun and fewer than 15 percent of students don’t see engineering as boring or nerdy (Changing the Conversation, 2008). It’s a great time to integrate more engineering challenges into curriculum, lesson plans and after school activities. A strong advantage to doing engineering activities is that students see connections to the world around them at the same time they develop problem solving skills that they can use in school and throughout their life.