On Feb. 8, President Obama addressed a meeting of the Deans Council of the American Society for Engineering Education in Washington, D.C. “For every Steve Jobs, we need 10,000 engineers who maybe are working a little more quietly but nevertheless are able to create the kind of products and services that improve people’s lives and also make sure our economy goes well,” he said.
The challenge, the President added, is attracting more young people into the field. “How can we reach into communities that currently aren’t producing a lot of engineers?" In these brief remarks, the president revealed a deep understanding not only of what engineers do and their value to society but also of the need to boost awareness and opportunities for girls and under-represented groups to participate in the field.
In other, more public speeches, including the recent State of the Union address, Mr. Obama has called out engineering as essential to addressing some of the big challenges facing the nation and world, like climate change, clean energy, and decaying urban infrastructures (see www.engineeringchallenges.org). On the same day as his meeting with the engineering deans, the White House sponsored the second annual White House Science Fair.
It was not called the White House Science and Engineering Fair, though it well might have been. Of the 100 students invited to participate, a conservative half showcased projects that had serious engineering elements, such as one New York middle schooler who designed a more efficient way to collect solar energy. So while Mr. Obama clearly gets it, it seems the White House staff needs more coaching regarding the nature and role of engineering. No one ever said Changing the Conversation would be easy!