CHAPTER 19: PROMOTING ENGINEERING
One of the biggest problems I see in attracting students into engineering is the image, or more correctly the lack of image, of the engineering profession. If a person were asked what doctors or lawyers do, the response would be immediate doctors treat sick people and lawyers argue legal cases in court. These answers are simplistic and don't begin to address all the duties of doctors and lawyers, but they are nevertheless typical responses. If the same person were asked what an engineer does, the response may be 'I don't really know.' or, worse yet, 'They drive trains.'(Tracy V. Murray, P.Eng., Atomic Energy Canada, Montreal Forum).
Unlike other professions, engineering is not visible to the general public. Engineering works behind-the-scenes and yet has a direct impact on every aspect of daily life. Engineers ensure we have heat, light, shelter, transportation, entertainment, appliances, communication systems, medical technology, clean water and waste disposal.
Research and personal testimonies demonstrate that many young people, particularly girls, do not know what engineers do; they rarely observe engineers at work as they observe doctors, lawyers and teachers.
A career as an engineer provides a way to make real and often dramatic improvements in life--not just for one client at a time, like many other professions--but for groups of people and all of society
A change in the public perception of engineering could make it easier to attract women into the profession.
Do we continue to cloak the profession in the mystique of cold technology? Society expects women to be nurturers. For the young woman deciding upon a career, is there a conflict between her self-image as a nurturer and her future self-actualization as an engineer? Engineering must be presented to junior and senior high school students in a social framework
One woman engineer who visits schools said that students seem surprised at her simple definition of engineering.
Engineering is the process of problem solving and we do it every day. To quote a favorite professor of mine: 'good engineers don't claim to have all the answers, they just know where to start looking'
Another engineer provides a different definition.
Engineers use their knowledge of science and mathematics to find solutions to problems. An engineering degree teaches a logical method of thinking that is useful to graduates not only in technical positions, but in management and administrative work as well
Public awareness campaigns
Women still receive the message, whether intentional or not, that they have a limited number of career options. We have to work to inform them otherwise (Jo-Anne Stead, Canadian Construction Association, Ontario Forum).
An ongoing, long-term public awareness campaign is needed to raise the profile of engineers in the eyes of the general public, and to portray engineering as a career option for women. Such a campaign should include: an annual engineering week; media promotions; special events such as award presentations and exhibitions of engineering accomplishments; contests, posters and videos; and open houses at engineering workplaces and schools. Both male and female engineers should play prominent roles in all promotional activities. The public awareness campaign must be coordinated with local activities of provincial and territorial associations of professional engineers. Individual engineers can support the campaign by participating in community and school activities.
Profile women engineers
Women can offer the profession a different, not a better perspective, but one that in conjunction with their male counterparts can incorporate that broader view of the world into new engineering designs
To raise the profile of women engineers, associations should encourage women members to speak at faculty of engineering events, business club meetings, parent-teacher nights, and professional development seminars for teachers and guidance counselors. A list of successful professional women in various disciplines should be compiled and distributed by associations.
Every advantage should be taken in professional publications and association newsletters to feature articles which highlight the role of women in various engineering disciplines. Awards committees should seek women nominees for awards so that their achievements can be recognized. At least one woman should participate on each award committee.
School visit programs
It is difficult for young adults to consider a career in engineering when they have no exposure to engineers. Young children are greeted daily by teachers, mail persons and sales clerks. They frequently make visits to the dentist and doctor. Their classrooms visit the local fire hall, police station, bakery, supermarket, pizza parlor and hair salon. Yet unless children have a close relative who is an engineer, they have no exposure to [engineers]
This woman engineer did not consider a career in engineering until she was in Grade 12. Clearly, the engineering profession needs to raise awareness of engineering careers in young people. That means defining engineering in terms that young people understand and creating an understanding that mathematics and science relate to everyday life and are the basis of engineering.
It is much more effective to direct the available resources immediately towards improving and expanding our pre-university outreach programs than to have 12 associations individually attempting to identify what to do as has generally been done to date
A coordinated effort by everyone concerned with promoting engineering is needed. Associations of professional engineers should cooperate with other organizations such as Women in Science and Engineering; the Society of Canadian Women in Science and Technology; Canadian Association of Women in Science; Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology; and the Northern Telecom-NSERC Women in Engineering Chair, as well as technical associations.
Co-operation will result in a sharing of resources such as videos, promotional materials, role models, and ideas. Duplication will be avoided and gaps in program delivery will be bridged. A central library for videos and other promotional materials could be created in each province.
Above all, a coordinated effort means that male and female students will hear consistent messages. There are many cultural influences that channel girls and young women away from science, mathematics and engineering (Chapters 1 to 6). To counteract those influences, school visit programs must send two messages: first, that engineering is a viable career for both women and men; and second, that engineers improve the quality of life.
School visits should be made on a regular basis and involve at least one woman engineer and engineering students whenever possible. Associations of professional engineers should work closely with deans of engineering and engineering undergraduate societies to encourage the participation of engineering students in school visits. Associations should also encourage employers of engineers to become involved in programs to attract and endorse engineering as a career for women, to support the participation of women engineers in school visit programs, and to promote engineering careers by holding open houses, sponsoring work/study field trips, and developing work-experience programs for engineering students.
A regular annual school visit campaign will ensure frequency of contact with school children. Presentations to classes and at career days can be followed up by field trips to engineering workplaces and consulting engineering offices. Through field trips to industrial sites and universities, young people will gain first-hand exposure to engineering activities. The helping aspect of the profession can be demonstrated in visits to sites like hospitals that employ biomedical engineers, or water treatment plants where civil engineers work.
To determine whether the presentations and field trips change student attitudes towards engineering as a career, associations should conduct surveys before and after school presentations and field trips.
Several associations have launched school visit programs in co-operation with government agencies, faculties of engineering and women in science and engineering organizations. Most associations have career counseling or student liaison committees that co-ordinate visits of members to schools in their provinces. Some help faculties of engineering work to retain students by sponsoring mentorship programs and speakers' series (Appendix C).
As a major source of information on the engineering profession, associations should ensure that provincial departments of education, teachers and guidance counselors have up-to-date information on careers in engineering. Messages concerning the increasing participation of women in non-traditional roles can be relayed through presentations by engineers to parent-teacher meetings.
Role model registries
Female engineers need to avail themselves of every opportunity to visit schools as they are the role models with whom female students will readily identify. All members of a professional organization are ambassadors for their field. It is time for engineers to raise their profile among youth--particularly females
If they have not already done so, associations of professional engineers should establish a role model registry in conjunction with their school visit program. The registry should list men and women engineers and ElTs, and contain biographical information. These role models could then be asked to visit area schools, mentor engineering students and engineers-in-training, and act as mathematics and science advisors in the classroom. To ensure the registry is used . effectively, it should be distributed to school districts, teachers' and guidance counselors' professional associations, and home and school groups.
Prepare role models
It is the women who have endured the various difficulties faced by all pioneers who can now see significantly increasing numbers of women in the profession, and who will be role models, family and friends of tomorrow's women in engineering
To ensure a positive impact on young people, presenters must be well-prepared and provide an interesting message. Above all, school children must hear consistent messages about the role of women in engineering. Associations should prepare role models to make gender-sensitive presentations and to relate engineering work to everyday life and the well-being of society. Presentations on engineering careers should include a definition of engineering, and descriptions of the different disciplines and fields of engineering. The relationship of mathematics and science to engineering must be stressed, particularly at the junior high school level.
Associations should develop and use role model resource packages to facilitate presentations. A resource package containing audio-visual aids and literature could also be used by guidance counselors and teachers. All material must use gender-inclusive language and portray women engineers in active roles. A variety of resource material is already available (Appendix C).
25. The CCWE recommends that associations of professional engineers design and launch a public awareness campaign to promote engineering, especially as a career for women, across Canada.
Schedule for success:
26. The CCWE recommends that associations of professional engineers establish or expand comprehensive attraction programs at elementary and secondary schools in cooperation with other organizations concerned with encouraging women to study engineering.
Schedule for success: