Encouraging Students to Consider Engineering Careers

Duke Energy has been a corporate participant in National Engineers Week, or EWeek, since 2002. EWeek is designed to raise public understanding and appreciation of engineers’ contributions to society, as well as to promote engineering and technical fields as possible careers. During the 2008 EWeek campaign, about 130 Duke Energy engineers and technical support volunteers gave presentations to more than 11,000 middle-school students.

The program

The National Engineers Week Foundation, which sponsors EWeek in February of each year, was founded in 1951 by the National Society of Professional Engineers. The foundation is a coalition of more than 75 professional societies, major corporations, and government agencies. It is dedicated to ensuring a diverse and well-educated future engineering workforce by increasing understanding of and interest in engineering and technology careers among young students and promoting pre-college literacy in math and science.

The EWeek program targets middle-school students because educational research shows that middle school is the time when many students withdraw from math and science curricula. In addition, many middle-school students are just beginning to look at possible career choices and need to start planning for higher education. Unfortunately, students often overlook engineering and technical fields, perhaps because the majority of middle-school students have never talked with an engineer and have no idea of the important work they perform. Most students recognize that one day they may need a doctor to save their lives, but they do not realize that they trust their lives to engineers every day … from the vehicles they ride in and the gymnasiums they play in to the water they drink and the electricity they use. The EWeek program is one mechanism to help raise the students’ awareness and bridge this knowledge gap.

Duke’s involvement

Duke Energy believes participation in the EWeek program is part of the company’s long-standing commitment to “citizenship and service.” To encourage the involvement of company personnel in community service, Duke Energy has an Excellence in Education and Communities program. This program offers all full-time employees an opportunity to spend up to ten hours of paid time each calendar year for academic-related activities at local public or private schools or for other community service scheduled during work hours. The time may be used for educational mentoring, attending field trips, participating in parent-teacher conferences, volunteering with parent-teacher organiza- tions, and other academic-related activities.

To help coordinate EWeek activities, Duke Energy holds a kick-off meeting and webinar in early January to recruit employee volunteers and introduce them to the program. At this meeting, volunteers learn the steps required to participate in EWeek and how to get started working with a teacher. Presenters also get helpful tips from experienced classroom speakers and are supplied with entertaining technical videos and website resources to support and enhance their classroom presentations.

By giving educational presentations to middle-school students during National Engineers Week, Duke Energy personnel promote engineering and technical fields as possible careers.
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Volunteers are encouraged to make personal contact with the teachers to discuss and tailor the contents of the presentation. Teachers love having engineers come into their classrooms and talk about real-world applications that connect with the math and science subjects their students are learning.

Duke Energy’s EWeek leadership team has put together a typical lesson plan that has proven to be quite successful over the years. Employees introduce themselves, provide a general overview of engineering, discuss why they chose a technical career, then perform hands-on experiments or projects. The intent of the project is to give the students an opportunity to become student engineers and to have fun in the process.

For example, one project involves splitting the class into several teams in an engineering competition. Each team must design and build a structure capable of holding up their science textbook using only ten sheets of paper and 2 meters of masking tape. The winner of the competition is the team whose structure holds their textbook the highest off the desk, for a minimum of ten seconds without falling. This project is intended to demonstrate the concepts of design, construction, quality assurance, testing, and teamwork. Initially, many students do not believe that paper structures can be made strong enough to hold up a textbook. But, with a little coaching from the volunteers, their confidence grows and they learn a little about engineering — while really having fun!

Results and lessons learned

At Duke Energy, the EWeek program has grown steadily, reaching more than 45,000 students over the past seven years. The program has been so successful that teachers call back year after year requesting visits from our engineers, and nearly every volunteer agrees to participate again and again. Some now spend a full day or even several days speaking to numerous classes at several schools. The volunteer speakers have a rewarding experience, the students learn about engineering while having fun, and the teachers are pleased to have real-life examples of technical people who do important work and have successful careers using math and science skills.

Although you may never know how many students you have helped by volunteering, the experience can be quite rewarding. Recently, a new engineer with our company approached me because she remembered my involvement with Duke Energy’s engineering presentations several years earlier. She just wanted to say “Thanks” and that our program was one of the influencing reasons that helped her decide to become an engineer! That was a gratifying testimonial of another wonderful accomplishment of Duke Energy’s EWeek program.

— By Gregory D. Lewis, P.E., technical manager, Duke Energy Corporation, P.O. Box 1006, Mail Stop EC 11-B, Charlotte, NC 28201; (1) 704-778-5014; E-mail: gdlewis@duke-energy.com.

Educational Websites

Additional educational information can be found at:


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