SAN FRANCISCOJohn Cohn, an IBM Fellow, called on engineers gathered here for the International Solid State Circuit Conference (ISSCC) to get involved in promoting the field of engineering to kids in order to change misperceptions about the profession and stem the global trend of engineering enrollment decline.
Cohn urged the audience to commit to joining him by doing engineering outreach in schools, churches, clubs and other venues. "The stakes couldn't be higher" for engineering or for the world, Conn said. He said today's focus on climate change and energy issues could act as a catalyst to help pull more students into engineering.
Cohn presented data on U.S. engineering enrollment trends that demonstratedas has been widely reportedthat it has been on the decline for the past two decades. But Cohn also showed data that indicated that, with the notable exception of China and India, the number of engineering degrees being issued is declining in countries throughout the world.
But rather than sounding an alarmist call over "another crisis," which he said would sound even more hollow in the wake of the current economic crisis, Cohn said engineers could "do something about it" by going out into the community to get kids excited about science and technology.
|John Cohn, IBM Fellow, speaking in a tie-dyed lab coat at the International Solid State Circuits Conference.|
Part of the problem, Cohn said, is the perception among school aged kids about the field of engineering. He presented data from a Harris poll done for the American Association of Engineering Societies that showed that fewer than 50 of respondents associated engineering with caring about the community, saving lives, being sensitive to societal concerns and improving the quality of life.
"No wonder they don't want to be engineers," Cohn joked. "I don't even want to sit next to one of those guys on a plane."
A survey conducted between 2006 and 2008 by the National Academy of Engineering showed that most kids who responded had only a vague notion of what engineers actually do, despite the more than $400 million spent each year on engineering career outreach promotion, Cohn said.
What students do understand about engineering is that it is difficult, requires math and science skills and is not for everyone, Cohn said. "We are just not resonating with something that is important to them," Cohn said.
Studies have shown that the generation now graduating college and entering the workforce is more idealistic than any since the 1960s, Cohn said. A survey found that 85 percent of respondents in this generation said it was important to them to have work that was meaningful and important, a higher percentage than cited other popular perks like a high salary, Cohn said. Another study showed that volunteerism rates among incoming freshman have risen noticeably.
"Something is changing," Cohn said. "It's not just about money."