What is Engineering?

Engineering is the process of designing the human-made world. It is the systematic application of knowledge and experience to solve problems and protect and improve lives.

Engineering takes a thought, or an abstract idea, and translates it into reality.  Engineering helped create almost every human-made object that we interact with on a daily basis. Everything from mobile phones, coffee cups, and athletic shoes to skyscrapers, national weather forecasts, and the Internet exists in large part due to the work of engineers.

Engineering has a powerful impact on our modern society.

Engineering involves critical skills like problem solving, modeling, and optimization.

Engineering demands habits of mind such as optimism, creativity, and perseverance.

Engineering is not a field of science; nor is it simply the application of science and math. It has its own history, its own unique body of knowledge, and is much more than its many workforce disciplines.

What do engineers actually do?

Engineers use knowledge and creativity to find solutions to society’s problems and to improve the quality of life for humankind.

Most engineers do not literally build the things we use. Using strong understanding of math,science, and other disciplines, they develop plans and directions for how things should be constructed. They conduct experiments and build and test prototypes to determine if ideas are feasible.

Engineers also design processes like those used in manufacturing to create chemicals and drugs. They develop the procedures for putting components together on an assembly line or preparing and packaging food products.

Engineers always look for ways to improve things. They identify problems and use systematic approaches like the engineering design process to solve them.

Engineers collaborate with professionals in many different fields, including scientists, builders of devices, social scientists, business people who market and sell products, and the wide variety of technicians and technologists who maintain and repair things.

The word “engineer” comes from the Medieval Latin verb “ingeniare,” meaning to design or devise. Humans have been devising clever inventions for thousands of years.
Learn more engineering history

The ability to transform ideas into real world technologies through a practical and cost-effective approach is what distinguishes engineers from others.

What does this mean for me and my students?

Our lives are increasingly defined by and dependent on technology—technology that is evolving at a breathtaking pace. To be able to think critically about technology and to make informed decisions about its development and use are essential skills for Americans in the 21st century.

Our society not only needs a large and vibrant engineering workforce, but also a population that understands the essential characteristics of technology, how it is developed, and how it influences society. Providing exposure to the engineering in PreK-12 education may be one of the most potent ways to ensure that happens.

Engineering experiences supports learning in different subject areas when done well. They help children make connections between classroom subject matter and the real-world. This in turn can increase student interest and encourage deeper understanding of the material on which students are assessed through standardized testing.

Produced by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine