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The market research effort described in this report began in August 2006 and concluded in January 2007. The goal was to develop and test the effectiveness of a small number of messages for enhancing public understanding of engineers and engineering. The research was part of a project funded by the National Science Foundation and carried out by a committee of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Prior to starting our work, we did a research review, an audit of communications efforts throughout the engineering community, and carefully studied the National Academy of Engineering's comprehensive message inventory from 2002. To test our preliminary messages, we launched a robust research program comprising 12 in-depth interviews, four focus groups with teens, one focus group with parents of young people ages 9-19, four sets of discussion groups with children ages 9-11, and a nationwide online survey with adults that included samples of informed adults and teens ages 14-17. We verified that certain messages have been successfully conveyed. For example, the idea the engineers need to be good at math and science has been very effectively communicated. Engineering is also seen as hard work. It solves problems. It designs, builds and constructs things. Yet it is also viewed as creative and having a positive effect on peoples everyday lives. And while it is not viewed as nerdy or boring by the general public (an image engineers are often quick to ascribe to themselves), no one can seemingly name a spokesperson or personality associated with the field. To improve the image of engineering, we recommend reframing the way we talk about and portray the field and its practitioners. We propose a new lexicon: away from skill in math and science and solving problems to making a world of difference.
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