Monday, October 19, 2009

Engineers Gone Wild

Posted by Will it stand? at 7:37 AM
Structural engineers can also be fun, clever and creative. A case in point is the ‘Engineers Gone Wild’ Youtube video produced to encourage attendance at a regional structural engineering conference. The video makes a tongue-in-cheek comparison between the business of engineering and Girls Gone Wild. It is well produced, and the result is hilarious.

Even the stodgiest PE can recognize the appeal of such a video to the younger generation. However, for too long, public outreach has been guided by out-of-touch grey-haired men. Although they typically recognize this fact, due to interaction with young employees and grandchildren, this is hardly enough to convince those who consider themselves experts in all fields. The resulting promotional materials have been conservative, highly technical, and reinforce nerdy stereotypes that turn-off creative individuals to engineering careers.

Fortunately, the last few years have witnessed a major change in how engineering professions are representing themselves to the public. It’s debatable whether this was caused by demographic changes in marketing committees or in recognition of previous failed efforts. Both are true. In my five-year experience on various outreach committees, I have noticed more women and younger members gravitating to such service to the profession. This comes not a moment too soon, as the number of engineering degrees granted annually remains below the peak set in the late 1970s (reference).

The National Academy of Engineering has recently taken charge of the re-branding campaign for engineers. A recent report called “Changing the Conversation” sets forth some guidelines for marketing engineering. Instead of emphasizing the static educational requirements of math and science, engineers must highlight the innovative people-serving aspects of their profession. “turning ideas into reality” was found to be the most appealing (and accurate) tagline for summarizing the role of engineers in society.

Civil and structural engineers have been at the forefront of this shift in public perception. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has worked extensively with media outlets, like WGBH in Boston, to produce programming, outreach guides and web resources for pre-college students. Asceville is the latest targeted effort to provide a portal for kids looking to explore civil engineering. Meanwhile the National Council of Structural Engineering Associations (NCSEA) and the Structural Engineering Institute (SEI) have teamed to publish an inspirational poster featuring the Beijing Olympics’ Birds’ Nest stadium.

Nevertheless, engineers have a long way to go in correcting the image of pocket-protector wearing cubical-dwelling number-crunchers. Embracing new media outlets and viral marketing might be the next step in communicating with the next generation of engineers. On that front, PR committees are stumbling, too concerned about liabilities and fearing misrepresentation. We ought to be encouraging more viral videos, like Engineers Gone Wild, and promoting discussions on social networks. There are certainly enough silly things in our vernacular (free body diagrams, erection and shrinkage to name a few) to go wild on Youtube and fuel an online buzz about structural engineering.

What did you think of Engineers gone wild? Do structural engineers deserve their stereotypes? Should new media (Youtube, Facebook, Twitter) be use to promote the profession? Are there dangers to doing so? Do you have a great idea for a viral video about engineering? Please comment below.

Ken Maschke is chair of ASCE’s Committee for Pre-college Outreach and a member of NCSEA advocacy subcommittees on public relations & the media and students & educators.

2 comments on "Engineers Gone Wild"

Anonymous said...

This video makes me regret becoming an engineer.

Anonymous said...

I would not step foot in any building designed by anyone in that video.

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