Educating engineering students about ethics: Experiences at brown university and trinity college

Ware, D. K., Ahlgren, D. J. and Silverman, H. F. (2013) Educating engineering students about ethics: Experiences at brown university and trinity college. [Conference Proceedings]


Engineering students need to understand that their future profession is guided by principles of ethics - principles regarding both the practice of engineering itself, and the business environment in which that practice occurs. Since 2003 at Trinity College (Hartford), and since 2005 at Brown University, this need has been addressed in lectures presented by an ethics advocate, lawyer and member of the senior management team at a Fortune 50 corporation. These lectures draw heavily upon real-life examples of business situations in which the company's engineers faced ethical choices and decisions. The guest lecturer solicits student participation and discussion to illustrate the importance of ethics, the kinds of ethical decisions made in the business world, and the nature of ethical decision-making. Particular ethical challenges discussed during the lecture include conflicts of interest, gratuities and bribes, and the protection of proprietary information, among others. This paper will discuss the method and content of the lecture, and observations by the lecturer and the host engineering professors about the perceived level of ethical awareness among the students. The paper will describe the courses in which the lectures are presented at Trinity and Brown, and it will present and discuss the results of a survey completed by the engineering students. The survey, administered to current and past students at Trinity and Brown, asked them to evaluate the value and effectiveness of the ethics lectures. The survey questions asked students to recall the lecture, to consider the lecture's effect on their ability to make ethical choices, and to rate the value of the ethics lecture on their engineering education. Approximately 80% of those surveyed considered ethics to be a generally important topic to be covered in their college education, and 74% found this particular lecture to have been helpful for making ethical choices. © American Society for Engineering Education, 2013.

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