The Forum was prompted as a response to what the organizers saw as three negative trends in U.S. engineering ” namely, that young people are not entering engineering fields in sufficient numbers to replace retiring engineers; that the engineering workforce needs more engineers skilled in emerging and increasingly multidisciplinary fields; and that public support and funding for engineering is in decline.
In response to these three fundamental challenges, dubbed the “Three Cs,” NEF’s overall focus is on:
- Capacity ” enhancing the quantity, quality and diversity of the U.S. engineering workforce, including homegrown talent to fill critical national security roles.
- Capability ” filling the need for engineers skilled in multiple disciplines and especially emerging multi-disciplinary fields such as sustainability, cybersecurity, advanced manufacturing, energy and healthcare.
- Competitiveness ” enlisting the engineering community to engage political leaders and the media to make the case for the essential role engineering plays in economic and national security and advancing U.S. leadership.
With the stated purpose of finding solutions, taking actions and raising awareness of the “Three Cs,” the Forum is hosting a series of regional forums, which will culminate with a national “cornerstone” event in 2017.
So far, NEF forums have been held in New York (N.Y.), Boston (Mass.), Knoxville (Tenn.), Columbus (Ohio), Detroit (Mich.), Chicago (Ill.), Madison (Wis.), Albuquerque (N.M.), Houston (Texas), Phoenix (Ariz.), San Diego (Calif.), Los Angeles (Calif.) and Seattle (Wash.).
After the first ten Forums, a report was released summarizing key themes or priority areas for action collected through the public dialogues, including:
- education advocacy to enhance the emphasis on STEM education at primary and secondary schools (K-12), universities, community colleges and technical schools, and continuing education.
- public messaging to improve the public perception of engineering and engineering, and awareness of its crucial role in national security, prosperity, and our competitiveness in a global economy.
- encouraging partnerships to capitalize on regional and local assets to attract public and private investments and cultivate a robust engineering talent pool to facilitate the growth and competitiveness of small and medium-sized companies.
Immigration reform has also been a focus of discussion at the NEF Forums; however, no clear consensus on priority actions has emerged. As noted in the NEF report:
“Differing ideological and political perspectives on immigration reform have surfaced in the dialogues. One point of agreement has been the need for gathering input from other national engineering hubs and giving thoughtful consideration before suggesting an actionable solution. So far, the majority of opinions fall into two main camps. Some stakeholders say efforts such as the National Engineering Forum’s focus on the capacity challenge will not directly impact the U.S. engineering labor force for decades and, therefore, immigration reform can provide an immediate solution to the current demand for engineers. Opponents of immigration reform efforts maintain that granting more H-1B visas and increasing the number of foreign-born engineers with permanent resident status drives down labor costs in the private sector, acting as a disincentive for American students considering engineering degrees.”
The next slate of NEF regional dialogues starts this fall in Orlando, Florida, hosted by the University of Central Florida on 9 November. UCF’s vision “is to educate the next generation of engineers and scientists and perform impactful research that advances the technologies of the 21st century.” The keynote speaker will be Albert Manero, a UCF doctoral student in mechanical engineering and executive director of Limbitless Solutions where he “leads the team to develop and distribute new arms, and encourage children to dream big dreams in engineering.”
On 2 February 2016, Oklahoma State University hosts the Stillwater, Oklahoma, regional dialogue. Dean Dr. Paul J. Tikalsky says OSU’s College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology is focused on ensuring graduates are equipped “to understand the world in its broadest context.”
Just a few weeks later, NEF’s next forum will be at Clemson University in South Carolina, which will also spotlight Clemson’s College of Engineering and Science and its strategic plan for “innovation through translation,” meaning “transforming knowledge that creates high impact on society.”
A Denver regional dialogue is being planned as well. Hosted by the Colorado School of Mines, the forum will highlight CSM’s College of Engineering and Computational Sciences research program of “improving people’s lives by attacking fundamental problems facing society.”
For more information on the National Engineering Forum and the forthcoming regional dialogues, see: http://nationalengineeringforum.com/