Are You Ready for Engineers Week?

Two activities launched by IEEE-USA celebrate an anniversary

7 January 2013

read Image: National Engineers Week Foundation

This year’s National Engineers Week marks a milestone for two of its most popular activities, which were launched by IEEE-USA: the Future City Competition and Discover Engineering Family Day. Both celebrate their 20th anniversaries during EWeek 2013, which runs from 17 to 23 February, in Washington, D.C.

“For IEEE-USA to have launched these events is something we can always be proud of,” says Pender McCarter, former IEEE-USA communications director, who retired in December after a 31-year career.

During the Future City Competition, an engineering design contest that attracts about 33 000 students from approximately 1100 middle schools each year, youngsters create a model of a metropolis. Family Day, which draws about 8500 visitors, features dozens of hands-on activities, as well as presentations by engineers and giveaways provided by local engineering chapters and national organizations to help promote technological literacy and foster an interest in engineering among children.

McCarter and a team of IEEE-USA volunteers and staff launched the events in 1993, the year IEEE-USA first served as lead society for EWeek. It was also the lead society in 2004 and is scheduled to lead the event again next year.

EWeek is organized by the National Engineers Week Foundation, a coalition of more than 
100 professional societies, major corporations, and government agencies.

“IEEE-USA has been a terrific partner and with us since the very beginning of Future City and Discover Engineering Family Day,” says Leslie Collins, the foundation’s executive director.

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) and Lockheed Martin are cochairs of this year’s EWeek. NCEES develops and administers exams for professional licensing of engineers and surveyors.

The Future City Competition has grown by leaps and bounds since its first event, when only 200 schools participated. Under the guidance of an engineer and teacher, students create their own vision of a future city, working first with SimCity 4 Deluxe software and then building three-dimensional scale models. The students also write an essay about a particular challenge the city planners might face. This year’s challenge is to design an environmentally friendly system to manage pollution from storm water runoff.

The competition teaches children about more than the engineering process. “Kids are also coming away with skills in research, team building, communications, and presentation,” Collins says.

Regional Future City competitions are being held this month, and the national finals take place during EWeek in Washington, D.C. IEEE-USA sponsors the national Best Communication System Award, presented to the team deemed to have the most “efficient and accurate communications system,” as well as the third-place prize of US $2000. If you’re interested in supporting a team or the competition, e-mail Bill Knight, Future City national program manager.

Representatives from NCEES will get to experience for the first time what many others have known for years: Discover Engineering Family Day is tons of fun. The organization is planning activities related to surveying and engineering safety.

“We’ve never actually had a presence at Family Day,” NCEES Director of Public Affairs Nina Norris says. “We’re excited about that.”

NCEES is a major sponsor of the  event to be held on 16 February, joining IEEE-USA, the EWeek Foundation, and National Building Museum, the event’s host. Linder & Associates Event Architects manages and helps plan the day’s activities.

During Family Day, students—primarily between the ages of 4 and 12—receive a basic introduction to the many branches of engineering through hands-on activities. Among the engineers giving presentations this year is U.S. astronaut Roger Crouch, who flew as a payload specialist on two 1997 Space Shuttle Columbia missions. Crouch also participated in last year’s Family Day.

IEEE-USA’s exhibit features a dynamo, snap circuits (reusable, snap-together circuit components), and a model wind turbine. You can watch a video of last year’s exhibit, which ran on TV.

The first Family Day event 20 years ago was a gala held at Intelsat, a global satellite services provider in Washington, D.C. More than 300 engineers, parents, students, and engineering society representatives attended.

From 1994 to 1997, the event—at the time named Family Night—was held at the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall. It moved to the National Building Museum in 1998. The 2011 Family Day set the attendance record, drawing 13 994 visitors.

“We’re proud of our role in creating Family Night and its growth into this amazing Family Day,” McCarter says.

IEEE members interested in getting involved should check with their local section to learn how it plans to celebrate EWeek. Many technology companies also participate, as do engineering schools. For example, the University of Missouri’s Kansas City School of Computing and Engineering held a full slate of activities last year and plans to do so again. And the Illinois Institute of Technology, in Chicago, is gearing up to hold the 29th annual Engineers Week Expo on 25 February.

Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, on 21 February, is another popular EWeek activity. Female engineers—and men, too—present positive messages about engineering and technical careers to elementary and high schools. IEEE Women in Engineering and the Society of Women Engineers are active supporters.

If your organization is looking for activity ideas, check DiscoverE, which can help you plan a school visit or event. You can find other ways to stay engaged on the Get Involved page.

IEEE membership offers a wide range of benefits and opportunities for those who share a common interest in technology. If you are not already a member, consider joining IEEE and becoming part of a worldwide network of more than 400,000 students and professionals.

Learn More