From Washington, D.C., to Washington state—and just about everywhere in between—engineers in the United States are gearing up to celebrate National Engineers Week (EWeek), from 14 to 20 February.
Whether it’s visiting a school to encourage youngsters to consider an engineering career, or joining colleagues in celebrating the profession, engineers often use EWeek as a platform for volunteering in their communities. EWeek is dedicated to fostering a vibrant and diverse engineering workforce by promoting interest in the profession and in technical careers among youngsters. It also tries to raise public awareness of, and appreciation for, the key role engineers play in making the world a safer and more enjoyable place.
“Volunteerism is one of the many ways we highlight what engineering can do,” IEEE-USA President Evelyn Hirt says. “When you dedicate a week to a profession, you want to not only emphasize the celebration of individual engineers’ accomplishments but also recognize what the profession as a whole brings to the community. Volunteerism is critical to what engineers accomplish.”
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) is co-chairing EWeek 2010 with ExxonMobil. The pair have adopted “Engineers Make a World of Difference: Celebrate Volunteerism” as the week’s theme. ASCE points out that America’s engineers collectively donate more than 1 million hours to public service each year.
Hirt plans to participate in the annual Tri-Cities Engineers Week Banquet, being held on 19 February in Richland, Wash. It’s an event she has helped organize in the past. The banquet, chaired by IEEE Member Scott Hudson and hosted by the College of Engineering and Architecture at Washington State University, Tri-Cities is designed to bring together engineers, students, and community leaders to celebrate the profession and acknowledge the contributions of EWeek volunteers.
Winners from the local Future City Competition and MathCounts programs are among the precollege students expected to attend and be honored. Future City is an engineering design competition in which middle school students implement their ideas for a new city in software. About 30 000 students across the United States participate. MathCounts is a national enrichment club and competition program that promotes achievement in middle school mathematics.
The highlight of the event is the presentation of the Tri-Cities Engineer of the Year award, in recognition of the professional who contributed significantly in the previous year. Nominees come from local engineering societies. About 200 people attend the gathering each year.
“The exciting thing is it’s not just engineers,” Hirt says of the Tri-Cities gala. “Everybody comes to celebrate the engineering profession.”
Similar events recognizing engineers are being held around the country. Hirt encourages all U.S. IEEE sections to join with their local engineering societies to celebrate EWeek. A key benefit, she points out, is the enhanced visibility the profession gains from participation by engineering societies and local businesses.
“It’s important to have events in the schools that champion education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and to encourage students to be future engineers, but the real importance is to have events during EWeek that help the community understand what an engineer does,” she says. “Engineering can be a silent profession that many people don’t understand.
"It’s important to appreciate that almost everything people do, in some way, shape, manner, or form, has likely been touched by an engineer at some point," she continues. “Technology is pervasive in our everyday lives, and it’s the engineer’s role to apply mathematics and scientific principles in a practical way to bring products and services to people.”
On 16 February, Hirt is slated to be at the Future City Competition national finals in Washington, D.C., where she is to present plaques to the third-place team and to the winners of the IEEE-USA Best Communications System Award. IEEE-USA sponsors the team and the award, which is given to the squad that is judged to have “the most efficient and accurate communications system.”
On Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day, 18 February, female engineers, with support from their male counterparts, encourage preuniversity girls to consider engineering careers. Organizers strive to reach 1 million girls throughout the country. Members of the IEEE Women in Engineering affinity group are involved with the effort.
Also on 18 February, winners of the ASCE and IEEE-USA college student video contests will be announced via webcast at 8 p.m. EST. The ASCE contest asked participants to explain in a video why their school or university is “the best at using your engineering talents to make a difference in your community.” IEEE-USA sought videos geared to 11- to 13-year-olds on how engineers improve the world.
EWeek 2010 events conclude on 20 February at the National Building Museum in the nation’s capital with the Discover Engineering Family Day Festival. Last year, a record 8178 people attended. Family Day volunteers from engineering societies, private companies, public broadcasting stations, NASA, and the U.S. Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program participate. IEEE and IBM are the major financial sponsors. The event brings hands-on engineering activities to children in the hopes of enhancing their technical literacy and sparking a career interest in the profession. At IEEE-USA’s exhibit, local members plan to demonstrate how electric motors and various electronic devices work. The members are planning to offer a breadboard project kit—complete with parts and instructions—to students, parents, and teachers who display the most interest.
“Family Day is a great example of the engineering community giving back to help everyone,” says Bruce Cranford, a semi-retired aerospace engineer and chair of the Family Day Planning Committee. “I like how the volunteer spirit exhibited there helps to encourage and motivate young students to become engineers.”
For ideas on how you can volunteer, go to the EWeek Get Involved page.