Engineers would be rich if they had a nickel for every time someone asked them, “So, what does an engineer actually do?” A general lack of awareness about the engineering profession in the United States has prompted IEEE-USA to set aside $73,000 for a 2006 public-awareness program that reaches out to children and adults.

The program includes developing TV engineering news spots, which IEEE began doing last year when it developed 140 news stories for 108 U.S. television stations, and creating a pre-university education brochure for fourth to eighth graders, which will be distributed to various children's museums nationwide. IEEE will also present an annual award to journalists for distinguished literary contributions, furthering the public understanding of the profession.

George McClure, chairman of IEEE-USA's communications committee, says these efforts are important because, “Generally the public is unaware of how engineering contributes to their current life and supports it.”

For engineers interested in raising public awareness about their profession, McClure suggests the following:

Write to editors. “The press frequently relates something as a development by scientists when it was really a development by engineers,” says McClure. He encourages engineers to write a letter to the editor if they spot a mistake like this.

Go to school.“Offer to assist teachers in science classes with demonstrations or projects that the children can engage in,” McClure says. High school and middle school career days can also be great opportunities to get a new generation excited about engineering.

Share your knowledge. Volunteer to judge a local science fair, or encourage local schools to host science fairs. “Frequently they don't have enough judges, and engineers are very well equipped to be judges of science fairs,” McClure says.