BY PRESIDENT DAN WITTLIFF, P.E., F.NSPE
As engineers, we are a primary agent for our clients and employers getting the best value or bang for the buck and still meeting the intended project performance requirements. In the face of limited resources, it becomes necessary for organizations to seek out and partner with like-minded organizations for the mutual benefit of both organizations' members.
Over the past 75-plus years of its existence, NSPE has formed strategic partnerships with about two dozen national organizations. These organizations range in size from a few thousand to more than 100,000 members. Some of them focus on a single engineering discipline, such as chemical, electrical, or mechanical, while others, like NSPE, are interdisciplinary.
To extract the most mutual benefit from these strategic partnerships by leveraging resources, I directed the Race for Relevance Strategic Partnerships Task Force under Warren Maddox, P.E., F.NSPE, to examine the existing memoranda of agreement (MOA) and understanding (MOU) to determine the efficacy of each agreement in meeting the stated mission and objectives of NSPE as well as the mutual needs of both organizations' members.
The task force not only explored our existing partners, but also looked into other organizations that expressed a desire to partner with NSPE on various activities. From the potential list, the task force winnowed the list down to eight organizations to develop specific initiatives. This short list includes the following interdisciplinary organizations: the Air and Waste Management Association, the American Water Works Association, the Society of Women Engineers, the Society of American Military Engineers, the American Nuclear Society, the American Society of Plumbing Engineers, and the American Institute of Architects.
The Society of Women Engineers is a six-decade-old organization that serves women in the engineering and engineering-related professions. SWE has over 24,000 members and has active and strong groups at the college and professional level. Although SWE has individual members, the organization also allows corporate memberships and sponsorships. SWE has regional and national conferences that draw numerous college students and professional members.
For about the past 15 years, NSPE has collaborated with SWE on several key initiatives. In 1997, NSPE worked with SWE on the Glass Ceiling Project. In 2004, NSPE partnered with SWE on gender parity initiatives in engineering education. Since 2010, NSPE has jointly sponsored SWE's Capitol Hill Day and participated in roundtable discussions on practical approaches to attracting and retaining women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.
The National Science Foundation's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics reports that women in undergraduate engineering programs fluctuated between 15.5% and 20.9% between 1991 and 2010, standing at 18.4% in 2010. These numbers are comparable to similar data from the 1970s. These numbers occurred despite the intense efforts to recruit and retain women in engineering education and despite the fact that women represent more than half of the enrollment in undergraduate education.
As I indicated in my March column, the country needs to grow about 25,000 more graduate engineers per year to sustain the U.S. economy's demand for engineers. Based on the dramatic underrepresentation of women in engineering programs compared to their overall numbers in colleges and universities, it makes sense that the fastest way to close the gap is to focus on attracting women to the engineering profession and retaining them through engineering school and beyond.
Given that the percentage of women in engineering fluctuated in the high teens over the past 30-plus years, it is apparent that current efforts need to be refocused on addressing the issues that have deterred women from entering the engineering profession in larger numbers. To this end, I requested that the Strategic Partnerships Task Force open the dialog to develop a written agreement with SWE that will culminate in a strategic plan to fund and develop a 10-year effort to double the number of female undergraduates in engineering to 40,000 by 2023.
This strategic effort should increase the percentage of women from the high teens to the high twenties and begin to significantly close the gap between what we graduate now and what the engine of the American economy needs. The strategic consequences (i.e., economic, educational, political) for the United States are dire indeed if we do not grow substantially the numbers of engineering students and graduate engineers.
However, this result cannot be achieved overnight and requires a sustained effort (much like the effort to land a man on the moon during the 1960s) over a decade or more to change the face of our profession. It will require engineers, educators, businesses, and government working together to review what we've done in the past and fix what's broken with these approaches so we will be successful. Please join us in this important effort.