SME President's Page

Hugh Miller

The US National Academy of Engineers: What is it and what does the organization do?

I suspect most of the SME membership is aware of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) but few probably know what this prestigious organization does or the important role it plays. To provide a brief overview of the NAE, Corale Brierley, vice president of the U.S. NAE and a member of SME, has graciously agreed to serve as a guest columnist this month.


Several dozen SME members, including the mining industry's most eminent executives, technology leaders and recent SME presidents (Jessica Kogel and John Marsden), are elected members of the NAE. Some of SME's most prestigious awards were established by or in recognition of industry leaders who are or were also NAE members. Most, if not all, of the 30-40 current SME members who are NAE members are awardees of SME and/or AIME medals and some are SME Distinguished Members. These joint SME/NAE members actively participate in NAE committees and activities and serve on boards, studies and other activities of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

So, what is the U.S. NAE? What is its mission? What does election to the NAE mean? What do members do?

The NAE arose from the advocacy of 10 engineers who were members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and 15 distinguished engineers who were not NAS members. These 25 engineers, among them Antoine M. Gaudin, a professor of metallurgical engineering at MIT, believed that the NAS neglected engineers and they wanted to establish a new academy that would support engineering interests in the nation. A "Committee of 25," which included Gaudin, negotiated with the NAS to establish the NAE under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences, which was founded through a congressional act of incorporation in 1863 and signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, with the mandate to advise government on scientific matters. Also instrumental in founding the NAE was Frederick Seitz, a theoretical metallurgist working in crystallography, who was NAS president (1962-1969) at the time. The NAE was established in 1964 with the Committee of 25 as its founding members. Gaudin served on the council (the governing board) of the fledgling Academy from 1964 to 1969.

The NAE is a private, independent, nonprofit, nongovernmental institution whose members provide engineering leadership in service to the nation. Its mission is "to advance the well-being of the nation by promoting a vibrant engineering profession and by marshalling the expertise and insights of eminent engineers to provide independent advice to the federal government on matters involving engineering and technology." To achieve this mission the NAE uses its unparalleled convening power to identify and illuminate issues at the intersections of engineering, technology, and society that impact our quality of life. Studies, symposia, and public information activities are carried out both independently by the NAE Program Office and jointly with other units of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

The NAE is governed by a council composed of a chair, president, vice president, home secretary, foreign secretary, treasurer, and 12 members (councilors) elected by the NAE membership. The current NAE president is John L. Anderson (former president, Illinois Institute of Technology) and the current chair is Gordon R. England (a former General Dynamics executive who twice served as Secretary of the Navy). The organization is managed by NAE member and Executive Officer Alton D. (Al) Romig Jr. (formerly "Chief Skunk" at Lockheed's Skunk Works). The NAE has a staff of approximately 35 and an annual budget of about $14 million. The NAE is currently engaged in a $100 million fund-raising campaign to support effective, action-oriented programs that are key enablers for addressing engineering challenges and opportunities through talent, innovative education, cross-disciplinary collaboration, and integrity of the profession. Underpinning these is funding to empower the NAE to fulfill its advising mission.

The NAE has about 2,100 elected members who are senior professionals in business, academia, and government and have distinguished themselves through technical accomplishments and leadership. The procedures for nomination and election of members involve a search in all fields of engineering by current NAE members for outstanding individuals with identifiable contributions or accomplishments in one or both of the following categories:

• Engineering research, practice, or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature;

• Pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, major advances in traditional fields of engineering, development/implementation of innovative approaches to engineering education, or engineering leadership of major endeavors.

Candidates for membership must also have demonstrated professional and personal integrity.

Each year about 80 members are elected from approximately 550 nominees. Nominees are a select group, as only existing NAE members serve as nominators and three additional members serve as references for each nomination. Only individuals judged by the nominators and references to be highly worthy of election are nominated. Members are elected by their NAE peers to serve the nation. Election to NAE membership is one of the highest professional honors accorded an engineer.

The NAE devotes more than $1 million annually to recognize leaders in engineering for their dedication to the field and their commitment to advancing the human condition through great engineering achievement and/or through innovation in engineering and technology education. The NAE currently presents seven prestigious awards.

The NAE also conducts programs specific to engineering and engineers:

• EngineerGirl ( is designed to bring national attention to the exciting opportunities that engineering represents for girls and women.

• Frontiers of Engineering ( brings together a select group of promising mid-career engineers from industry, academia, and government to discuss pioneering technical work. The goal is to introduce outstanding young engineers to one another, spark collaborations, and aid the transfer of new engineering approaches across fields. This activity sustains and builds our nation's innovative capacity.

• The Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GCSP) is an aspirational vision of what engineering needs to deliver to all people on the planet in the 21st century. This education supplement adds global awareness and social skills with a focus on the NAE Grand Challenges for Engineering ( The GCSP identifies five competencies (talent, multidisciplinary, viable business/entrepreneurship, multicultural, and social) that a student must achieve to be prepared to address the Grand Challenges for Engineering. Each adopting university defines its supplemental approach to educating its students in the five competencies within its undergraduate engineering degree program framework.

• The Center for Engineering Ethics and Society ( focuses the talents of the nation on addressing the ethical and social dimensions of engineering, as both a profession and an agent of innovation.

The NAE also works closely and collaboratively with its sister academies and the NRC on projects that span disciplinary boundaries to address technical, engineering, and scientific aspects of society's most pressing problems. Through a careful study process, the Academies provide independent advice in peer-reviewed, evidence-based, unbiased consensus reports. Together with workshop proceedings, the 200-300 reports generated annually at a value of about $320 million cover an array of topics—the nation's energy future, critical minerals, transportation safety, workforce trends in various industries, vaccine safety, the many dimensions of national security, the nation's future in space, agriculture, gene editing, and many, many more. Following is a sampling of studies that have involved SME/NAE members and are relevant to the interests of SME:

• Monitoring and Sampling Approaches to Assess Underground Coal Mine Dust Exposures

• Emerging Workforce Trends in the US Energy and Mining Industries: A Call to Action

• Uranium Mining in Virginia: Scientific, Technical, Environmental, Human Health and Safety, and Regulatory Aspects of Uranium Mining and Processing in Virginia

• Improving Self-Escape from Underground Coal Mines

• Coal: Research and Development to Support National Energy Policy

• Minerals, Critical Minerals, and the US Economy

In summary, the National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Medicine, and National Research Council convene the nation's most knowledgeable engineers, scientists, health professionals, and other experts who volunteer their time on initiatives that guide the development of federal laws and regulations, improve the effectiveness of government programs, shape the direction of research fields, and inform public knowledge and dialogue about issues of critical importance. NAE members, who number about 2,100, are highly accomplished engineering professionals in business, academia, and government and are elected to membership by their NAE peers. They provide leadership and expertise for numerous projects involving engineering and technology, and those who are also members of SME serve on boards, committees, and panels that oversee a wide range of earth resource and science issues. They identify opportunities for advancing research and engineering, understanding of earth resources and science information for policy decisions, applications of earth resources and science to important societal issues, and the overall health of research and education programs related to earth sciences and resources.


President's Note: I'd like to extend my sincere thanks to Corale Brierley for her outstanding guest column and all her efforts in serving NAE and SME. Published proceedings that chronical the presentations and discussions of NAE and its sister academies can be found on-line at National Academies Press ( I would also like to personally acknowledge and congratulate the three new SME members who were recently elected into the NAE; they include Red Conger, Jessica Kogel, and John Spear. This recognition is well-deserved and we're extremely happy for all of you. Take care and be safe.