Founded in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), Engineers Week was originally meant to spotlight the contributions of engineers to society, and has since evolved as a tool for the field to reach out to youth across the nation in the hopes of growing a valuable future workforce. This year’s Engineers Week takes place from February 21 to 27.
“It was initially started for publicity and recognition of engineers. They were doing so many phenomenal things, and engineers are not big on talking about themselves or what they do,” Kathryn Gray, a past president of NSPE, told the Business Journal. Gray owns a software engineering firm in Illinois called GrayTech Software Inc. and is a past chair of the American Association of Engineering Societies. She currently sits on board of directors for DiscoverE, a coalition of more than 100 organizations dedicated to growing a dynamic engineering profession through outreach and education, which oversees Engineers Week.
When Engineers Week began in the 1950s, it was limited to state and local chapters of the NSPE. In the ’80s, it grew to include other technical societies, schools, companies and interested parties. “Over the years it has grown because of the fact that we saw less and less people joining the engineering profession, and more need for engineering knowledge and the ability to design and come up with ideas for the future,” Gray said. Now, many organizations and schools, such as California State University, Long Beach’s School of Engineering, host their own Engineers Week events.
The engineering field needs not only to grow the size of its workforce, but also the presence of women and diverse voices within that workforce, according to Gray. Part of the reason this is a hot topic in engineering today is the concept that diverse thought leads to better designs. For example, if a group of engineers were to design a piece of equipment for someone who is disabled, that design would be better informed if a disabled engineer were included in the work process, she explained. “That’s something we’re missing right now,” she said.
As Gray put it, engineering is “essential to our health, happiness and safety.” Engineers make our buildings seismically safe, build bridges for us to cross, design cars and planes for us to travel in. They create the software on our computers, and our computers themselves. Biomedical engineers create the medicines that protect our health. Getting the youth of America to see the real-world implications of engineering through events and programming like Engineers Week may be key to growing the future of the industry, according to Gray.
The DiscoverE website, www.discovere.org, provides informational resources and activity guides for educators, parents, volunteers and students to help them plan their own engineering-related activities throughout Engineers Week and all year long. “This year we have close to a 60 percent increase in downloads of our K-12 resources,” Gray said. “We have exceeded two million views on that.”
One of the largest Engineers Week events is the final for Future City, a national competition challenging groups of middle-schoolers to design their own cities of the future using the program SimCity. “They have to solve a problem that’s designed each year,” Gray said. “Perhaps it’s how do we make sure everyone will have the necessary water resources, or energy, or necessary transportation, and what’s that going to look like.”
For more information about Engineers Week, visit www.discovere.org/our-programs/engineers-week.