IEEE-USA’s “How Engineers Make a World of Difference” Scholarship Award Competition

Nathan  Kahl Posted on November 22, 2010 by Nathan Kahl

IEEE-USA launched its first “How Engineers Make a World of Difference” online video scholarship award competition for undergraduates in the 2007-2008 school year. The competition is one of IEEE-USA’s five 2010 public awareness projects to enhance the public understanding of engineering and to promote technological literacy – with a project budget of approximately $100,000.

Reaching pre-college students through videos

IEEE-USA’s online video competition took root in the spring of 2007 with a meeting of volunteer leaders and staff with the organization’s communications committee. Brainstorming on an idea for a film festival, two 30-something IEEE-USA volunteer members proposed a YouTube online video competition to spark a creative spirit and an interest in math and science among precollege students.

“I wanted to... inspire a child to make a change in the world they live in.”

~LTU student, winner

Volunteers and staff compiled the rules for the first 2007-2008 competition; obtained $6,000 to fund the first three scholarship awards; chose three judges, including two engineering graduate students and the host of PBS’ Design Squad; and created an introductory YouTube video.

Since the launch of the competition, judges have focused on 90-second video entries deemed most effective in reinforcing for an 11-13-year-old audience one of the top four NAE tested messages: “engineers make a world of difference.” In the most recent 2009-2010 competition, a special award was given for the most innovative and effective presentation of a video entry to the “tweener” target audience.

IEEE-USA’s promotion has centered on IEEE student website and IEEE-USA website; IEEE student e-mail and conference distributions; ads in the IEEE student magazine, Potentials; and additional listings on video/college websites. Following up on another brainstorming session with the IEEE-USA’s public awareness volunteers, the organization is pursuing online advertising in Facebook for its 2010-2011 competition.

Improving quality, more awards

“I wanted the target audiences to realize that they have the ability to choose a career that can improve the world they live in.”

~LTU student, winner

In the first three years of the competition, IEEE-USA has awarded $16,000 in scholarship awards to 10 undergraduate U.S. engineering students, including women and minorities. All three of the first place winners received their award at the IEEE-USA’s annual meetings in Indianapolis (2008), Salt Lake (2009) and Nashville (2010). This year’s competition is budgeted at $6,000, with $5,000 in scholarship awards and up to $1,000 to cover travel of the first-place winner to the IEEE-USA annual meeting in Austin.

The awards have been announced in conjunction with Engineers Week, and in 2010, were part of the Engineers Week Blast live webcast from Howard University with Washington Fox 5’s Holly Morris and Design Squad’s Nate Ball. The winning entries have also been featured on the Design Squad website reaching our 11-13-year-old target audience. Additionally, the 2007-2008 competition winners were highlighted in a special report. And the winning entries have also been distributed on DVDs to IEEE student chapters nationwide.

Two students from Louisiana Tech were repeat winners in the competition. One undergraduate went on to apply to the University of New Orleans department of film, theatre and communication arts. In 2007-2008, the LTU students’ first-place video received 8,000 hits on YouTube, placing it in the category near or above “family and friends.” One of the repeat LTU winners told us: “I wanted the target audiences to realize that they have the ability to choose a career that can improve the world they live in.”

Although entries have been limited, up to only nine this year, the quality of the videos, IEEE-USA’s volunteer leaders agree, has improved annually. In 2009-2010, the special category award for presentation of a video to a tweener audience was given to a Pensacola Junior College student who arranged for a special showing of her video to a junior high school audience and even featured a member of the target group, her brother, in her video.

More information about the competition, can be found on the IEEE website:

Winning entries can be viewed on YouTube:  

For the report of the 2007-2008 contest winners, see

Video Camera

Continuing to refine the requirements

To address concerns about the limited number of entries, staff has interviewed past winners and the three continuing judges. They agreed that the entry requirements could be eased to open the competition to all U.S. undergraduates but retained the requirement for at least one IEEE student member on a team. The volunteer staff team is also exploring better ways to reach undergraduates through social media.

Some IEEE technical society volunteers questioned the focus on how engineers make a world of difference – preferring a broader definition of technology professionals and their impact. IEEE-USA volunteers and staff have sought to strike a balance with our most recent requirements stipulating an individual profile “of an engineer or technology professional and how s/he makes ‘a world of difference.’” For both the 2010 and 2011 competitions, we have chosen to emphasize the contribution of individuals over the products or technologies that they produce/create.

In addition, early entries included copyrightable material and the volunteer staff team added a further requirement that students confirm that all materials have been cleared.

Another major challenge arose in the 2009-2010 competition when IEEE-USA received two entries from outside the United States: Pakistan and South Africa. Although the competition is funded by an assessment levied on U.S. IEEE members, and the rules stipulated U.S. undergraduates, IEEE members outside the U.S. obviously became aware of the competition through the Web.

IEEE-USA staff contacted the individuals outside of the U.S. and noted the limiting competition rules, but also featured all of the entries, including those from Pakistan and South Africa, on its website. We are making extra efforts to highlight the U.S. undergraduate requirement in the current promotion.

For more information, contact:

Pender M. McCarter, senior public relations counselor

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