Fall ’21 Update from the Chair

Dear Engineering Communicators,

I will begin this newsletter with a heart full of thanksgiving. I even made a list! And good news – you’re on the list:

I am thankful for this division and you all who said “yes!” Finally, a professional home that makes sense for engineering communicators and has connected me with new friends and colleagues from all over the US.

I am thankful for our officers, who have dreamed big with me from the start and tolerate my rambles and tangents.

I am thankful for our book club discussing NAE’s “Changing the Conversation,” a core group who have become dear colleagues I can share ideas, ask tough questions, and cheer on in this tough career choice. I’m thankful they also dream big.

I am thankful for our annual conference and the sessions that I still reference on the weekly around here. Specifically, the mention of NAE’s “Changing the Conversation” that propelled us into a book discussion and now career trajectory as an “engineering communicator” instead of communicator-who-happens-to-work-in-a-school-of-engineering.

Zoom. Yes, I’m even thankful for Zoom for helping us stay connected for our annual conference, board meetings, book club discussions, and the tool I have utilized for the flexibility to remain at home for remote work.

Last but certainly not least, I speak on behalf of all to say we are ever so thankful for Nathan Kahl, who is the glue for this group and who had the vision to set forth on this journey. He is counted on by so many and just hope he knows he can count on us to do our part, communicating on behalf of our engineering faculty, students, and programs.

If you haven’t said “yes” to our division just yet, the virtual door is always open! If you aren’t sure, please check out the current list of members. To join, use the registration link and instructions on ASEE and remember to click “Engineering Communicators Division” during the process.  If you forget to click our division, you can always go back and add it later!

In this time of thanksgiving, I wish everyone a wonderful, peaceful, healthy(!) holiday season ahead.


Teresa Walker
Purdue University

First Bell Ad Tips

By Kristin Torun, Director, Advertising Sales, Bulletin Media, a Cision company

Know the company you keep. On a solemn note: 2020 -2021 was not only overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic, but also by the misinformation surrounding it; we would be remiss not to acknowledge the professional credibility that is extended to those that advertise with First Bell, which has a reputation among the engineering community that precedes it. We take great pride in knowing that highly educated professionals rely on First Bell as a trusted source of news and information, especially during an anything-but-average year.

Embrace change and stay nimble. In response to COVID-19, a topic that remains ubiquitous in the news cycle, some of our Top Thirty advertisers pivoted from their usual approach to raise awareness of their department’s contributions during the pandemic. For example, one engineering school promoted a “build-it-yourself ventilator,” while another university showcased face shields designed by its engineers.

Fun fact: marketers across industry and trade shifted their strategies to adapt to such challenging and unprecedented times – to the extent that “pivot” was coined 2020’s marketing “word of the year.”

Put your best face forward. Speaking of faces, did you notice that 25 of the Top Thirty ads include an image of a person? That’s not a coincidence. We believe our readers are drawn to ads that feature someone they might recognize from their professional circle. Senior faculty members like presidents, deans, and chancellors are often thought leaders with substantial clout in the engineering space.

Don’t forget our tried-and-true ad design tips. 1) Avoid walls of text and be clear and concise with your messaging. 2) Be distinct with your headline, sub headline, and call-to-action to create contrast that provides a logical flow for the viewer’s eye. 3) Use real images that your target audience will find relatable. 4) Create a visual indication that your ad is clickable.


Q&A with UMaryland’s Chris Bender

Chris Bender headshot
Chris Bender


Chris Bender


University of Maryland, A. James Clark School of Engineering



Assistant Dean for Communications, and fortunate to work with a smart, creative and dedicated communications team.

What do you do for fun?

    • Spend time with my six-year-old boss, Zach, and my amazing wife, Melissa. Zach is CEO, Melissa is COO/CFO and I’m “other duties as assigned.”
    • Smoke meat and BBQ. I’m not Myron Mixon but have fun cooking for people, and experimenting with different woods, proteins, vegetables and seasonings. 
    • Spend time outdoors. I run, bike and swim but will pretty much participate in any outdoor activity. We’ve got a garden, for example, and play lots of cornhole (where I mostly lose). 
  • Be a UCLA basketball and San Diego Chargers fan. Yes, I said “San Diego” and, yes, it’s a soul-crushing enterprise, but I’m committed.

What is your favorite thing about working in engineering communications?

UMD’s engineers are in the business of helping people, and it’s a fun privilege to storytell about their work. If communications can deliver a narrative that turns people’s heads and exposes them to a better fire protection system, for example, and that exposure improves someone’s life, I’m inspired.

Something really cool currently happening in engineering at your school?

There’s a lot! Drones that smell. Wood that’s transparent. Quantum computing. I’m inspired by the student clubs and competition teams: Terps Racing build winning racecars. We’ve got another team that finished in the top four in the Boring Company’s Not-a-Boring Competition, which challenges students, companies and hobbyists to build a tunnel infrastructure necessary to enable fast, safe and comfortable transportation, including Loop and Hyperloop. It’s cool to be in an environment with that much innovation. We’re also having a dialogue about what we at UMD can do to promote more DEI in engineering.

What is the most challenging part of the job?

People often don’t see communications as a strategic function. That’s not specific to engineering: I’ve experienced it in the private and non-profit sector, too. It’s also partly that when we as communicators discuss our work, we can focus on tactics. It’s important we see ourselves, and our internal stakeholders see us, as strategists – that a Tweet, for example, is driving a larger goal – and we position our roles and work in that way.

Project or achievement in your current position that you are most proud of?

Our team is top-flight. Even with the pressures of the last year, it kept innovating – and credit goes to team members. The team found better ways to deliver targeted advertising, grow and engage our online audiences, delve deeper into DEI as it relates to engineering and more. I’m proud to work with and learn from our team.

Advice for someone just starting out in higher ed communications and marketing?

  • Ask lots of questions. Understand historical precedent: What’s been tried and/or not tried, and why.
  • Create and articulate a relationship between what you’d like to do and the college’s strategic plan. 
  • Network with people in your role at other colleges and universities. You get great advice when you get a diversity of advice.

Leadership: Ready or not

Carl Apple portrait photo
Carl Apple

By Carl Apple, Director of Communications, George R. Brown School of Engineering, Rice University

Transitioning into a leadership position can be tough. When I say that, I’m not just referring to the tasks and decisions of the job—sometimes first making the decision is the hardest part.

Whether you’re being asked to coach a little league team, lead a church group or run a committee at work, sometimes it can be harrowing to just say “hey, I’ll do it.” 

When I decided to leave the TV news business, I envisioned an entry-level gig. After all, I didn’t have any tangible experience in public relations and marketing. Was I in for a shock? I got a position leading communications for a relatively large, high profile nonprofit, representing a large chunk of the state.

Great news, right?

The problem is that I was so thrilled with landing the job, I never really processed what I was getting myself into. What the heck does “director of communications” actually mean? They won’t actually expect that I’ll know what I’m doing? 

One of my staff members asked me if my last office had windows. I told her, “Yes, there were a bunch of windows and they were always moving.” Get it? Because I was a TV reporter. Let’s move on.

Leading a staff; coordinating a campaign; organizing events; providing guidance in a crisis—I had a lot to learn. What the heck is a “calendar invite?” 

Many of you probably had the luxury to grow into your roles, but there was probably a moment when you had to dive in. I’m certainly not here to provide leadership coaching—there are people who have dedicated their careers to that. What I will say is that when you have an opportunity to step up, there’s usually a reason. Whether it’s the PTA or the School of Engineering, it’s usually because you’re needed and someone thinks you’re ready.

However, I would suggest asking yourself a few questions before jumping into management. 

  • Do you like solving problems? Actually, do you like solving other people’s problems?
  • Are you OK with giving up some control?
  • Are you able to, occasionally, fight for something on behalf of others?
  • Are you OK with delegating things (seriously, some people can’t do it)?
  • Can you let a little thing go so that you get a victory with the bigger thing?

I’m sure some of our other managers in higher ed could add to this list. Regardless, sometimes the best way to find out is to take advantage when the right opportunity comes along.

As for the job at that nonprofit? Things worked out pretty well. I did a lot of stupid things. I asked for a lot of help. But we did a lot of great work, too. And you know what? After that, my next leadership role wasn’t so scary.