Discover Engineering Family Day: Celebrating our 25th Anniversary in 2017

Discover Engineering Family Day went sky high on Feb. 22, 2014 when Nate Ball, an engineer, entrepreneur and TV personality, soared to the top of the National Building Museum with the help of his company’s Atlas Power Ascender.

The vertical-ascent and rescue device, which is employed by all five branches of the U.S. military, carried Ball 122 feet above ground. The Boston resident was “extremely excited” to fly at Family Day for the first time since 2011.

“It’s always fun doing these demos, but this event has a unique combination of the ideal audience to feel really excited about it, and it’s just the coolest venue to get to demo in — ever,” Ball said. “The 12-story indoor space is unparalleled; there’s just nothing like it. Putting those two together make it one of my favorite events to participate in.”

Ball’s appearance, coupled with former Space Shuttle Columbia astronaut Dr. Roger Crouch, helped the event draw more than 9,000 people for the fourth consecutive year. Crouch will be returning on Feb. 18, 2017 when we celebrate Family Day’s 25th anniversary.

Family Day has changed considerably over the past two decades. The first event was an “Engineers Week Gala” on Wednesday Feb. 17, 1993 at Intelsat, a worldwide satellite services provider, in northwest Washington, D.C. More than 200 engineers, parents, students and engineering society representatives attended. The program included tours of Intelsat and Future City Competition exhibits, banners and posters. Future City, an engineering design competition for middle school students, also launched that year.

IEEE President Martha Sloan, the organization’s first woman president, emceed the program. She was chosen because IEEE-USA was serving as National Engineers Week lead society. The Chevron Corp. was IEEE-USA’s lead corporate partner.

Speakers included IEEE Fellow Edith Martin, Intelsat vice president and chief information officer; “Dr. Fad,” Ken Hakuta, an internationally known inventor and host of a TV series for 6- to 11-year-olds; and Chevron CEO Kenneth Derr.

The event was designed to celebrate engineering as a profession. Future City winners were announced, as were the winners of a photo contest for practicing engineers and engineering students. The contest highlighted engineering’s contributions toward the development of safe and efficient energy. Print journalism awards from the American Association of Engineering Societies and the Engineering Foundation were also presented.

From 1994-97, the National Air & Space Museum’s National Mall site hosted “Family Night.” The event moved to the National Building Museum in 1998 and continued to be a weekday evening affair through 2001. The 1998 get-together, on Feb. 25 from 7-9 p.m., featured the launch of the traveling exhibition, “Breaking Through: The Creative Engineer,” which explored how engineers express creativity through their work.”

Family Day Sees the Light

Discover Engineering Family Day as we know it today – a daytime festival on a Saturday during EWeek – began in 2002. By moving it to the weekend, more parents, teachers and students have been able to attend. About 30 local and national exhibitors participate each year. IEEE-USA and DuPont served as presenting sponsors in 2014.

Aerospace engineer Bruce Cranford, longtime Family Day Planning Committee chair, retired after the 2016 event. Luis Escobar, a heating, air conditioning and refrigeration engineer, succeeded him.

Major annual sponsors include the the DiscoverE Foundation and IEEE-USA.

Here are a Few Family Day Highlights Since 2002:

  • A NASA Mars Exploration Rover model
  • One of NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon’s replica racecars
  • Cree, Inc., handed out 1,000 LED light bulbs to 2015 visitors
  • A dynamo and three-light box
  • Appearances by stars of the PBS Kids TV show ZOOM
  • Former Space Shuttle Columbia astronaut Dr. Roger Crouch signing autographs
  • Semiconductor chips courtesy of the Semiconductor Industry Association
  • Engineer Nate Ball flying to the top of the National Building Museum’s Great Hall
  • A Blind Driver Challenge simulator from the National Federation of the Blind

Family Day Attendance

Discover Engineering Family Day drew a National Building Museum one-day record 13,994 visitors on Feb. 19, 2011. It is one of the museum’s most popular annual events, as these recent attendance figures show:

  • 2016: 8.200
  • 2015: 7,897
  • 2014: 9,271
  • 2013: 9,098
  • 2012: 9,596
  • 2011: 13,994
  • 2010: 5,340
  • 2009: 8,178
  • 2008: 7,300
  • 2007: 6,406

Written by Chris McManes, IEEE-USA public relations manager and vice chair of the Discover Engineering Family Day Planning Committee. (Updated February 8, 2017)