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Date: May 17, 2004
Contacts: Patrice Pages, Media Relations Officer
Christian Dobbins, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail <>


Engineering Profession Must Adapt to Maintain U.S. Leadership in the Future

WASHINGTON -- To enhance the nation's economic productivity and improve the quality of life worldwide, engineering education in the United States must anticipate and adapt to the dramatic changes of engineering practice expected in the coming decades, says a new report from the National Academies' National Academy of Engineering. Technologies developed by engineers have helped lengthen the human life span, enabled people to communicate nearly instantaneously anywhere on Earth, and created tremendous wealth and economic growth. The next several decades will offer more opportunities for engineers, with exciting possibilities expected from nanotechnology, information technology, and bioengineering, the report adds.

However, other engineering applications, such as transgenic food, technologies that affect personal privacy, and nuclear technologies, raise complex social and ethical challenges. Future engineers must be prepared to help the public consider and resolve these dilemmas, noted the committee that wrote the report. Challenges will also arise from new global competition, requiring thoughtful and concerted action if engineering in the United States is to retain its vibrancy and strength.

The engineering profession needs to adopt a new vision for its future to ensure that engineers are broadly educated, become leaders in the public and private sectors, and represent all segments of society, the report says. Future engineers must be able to acquire new knowledge quickly, be adaptable and engage emerging problems, and also be capable of informing public policy.

To consider which skills future engineers will likely need, the committee envisioned several scenarios -- such as new breakthroughs in biotechnology, natural disasters triggered by climate change, and global conflicts driven by an imbalance in resources among nations -- that could conceivably affect the world in 2020 in dramatic ways. By then, engineers must be prepared to accommodate new social, economic, legal, and political constraints when planning projects, the committee concluded. For example, engineers should be educated to develop sustainable technology and be prepared to communicate ideas and issues to multiple stakeholders, including government, private industry, and the public.

With the appropriate education and training, the engineer of the future will be called upon to become a leader not only in business but also in nonprofit and government sectors, the report says. Future engineers must recognize the importance of public service and help set the nation's policy agenda. Also, since engineers are increasingly involved in international collaborations, they need to appreciate other cultures and their evolving roles in the global economy, the report notes.

Engineering schools should attract the best and brightest students, the committee said, and be open to new teaching and training approaches. The engineering profession needs to recognize that engineers can build the future through a wide range of leadership roles in industry, government, and academia -- not just through technical jobs, the committee noted. Also, engineers should raise awareness of how an engineering education provides a solid foundation for careers in other fields, such as law, medicine, and business.

The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation, NEC Foundation of
America, SBC Foundation, Honeywell International, and the National Academy of Engineering Fund.

The National Academy of Engineering is a private, nonprofit institution that provides technology advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Copies of The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at The cost of the report is $32.00 (prepaid) plus shipping charges of $4.50 for the first copy and $.95 for each additional copy. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).

[ This new release and report are available at ]

Committee on the Engineer of 2020

G. Wayne Clough* (chair)
Georgia Institute of Technology

Alice M. Agogino*
Roscoe and Elizabeth Hughes Professor of Mechanical Engineering
University of California

George Campbell Jr.
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
New York City

James Chavez
Government Relations
Sandia National Laboratories
Albuquerque, N.M.

David O. Craig
Internet and eBusiness
Reliant Energy

José B. Cruz*
The Howard D. Winbigler Chair in Engineering and Professor of Electrical Engineering
Ohio State University

Peggy Girshman
Assistant Managing Editor
National Public Radio
Washington, D.C.

Daniel E. Hastings
Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Michael J. Heller
Department of Bioengineering, Electronic Engineering, and Computer Engineering
University of California
San Diego

Deborah G. Johnson
Department of Engineering Technology, Culture, and Communications
University of Virginia

Alan C. Kay*
Senior Fellow
Hewlett-Packard Co.
Palo Alto, Calif.

Tarek M. Khalil
College of Engineering
University of Miami

Robert W. Lucky*
Corporate Vice President
Applied Research
Telcordia Technologies Inc. (retired)
Fair Haven, N.J.

John M. Mulvey
Professor of Operations Research and Financial Engineering
Princeton University
Princeton, N.J.

Sharon L. Nunes
Vice President
Emerging Businesses
Thomas J. Watson Research Center
IBM Corp.
Yorktown Heights, N.Y.

Henry Petroski*
Aleksandar S. Vesic Professor of Civil Engineering and Professor of History
Duke University
Durham, N.C.

Sue V. Rosser
Ivan Allen College
Georgia Institute of Technology

Ernest T. Smerdon*
Dean of Engineering Emeritus
University of Arizona


Stephen W. Director*
Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Mich.


Patricia F. Mead
Study Director

* Member, National Academy of Engineering