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A Longitudinal Study of Social and Ethical Responsibility Among Undergraduate Engineering Students: Preliminary Results

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

Ethical Reasoning and Responsibility

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Debra S. Fuentes Brigham Young University

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Debra S. Fuentes is a doctoral student at Brigham Young University in Educational Inquiry, Measurement, and Evaluation specializing in Mathematics Education. She received a Master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction emphasizing English as a Second Language, and a Bachelor's degree in elementary education, minoring in Spanish and pre-medicine studies. She previously worked in education as a teacher and administrator in Utah and Mexico for eleven years combined. Much of her current work and research focuses on Cognitively Guided Instruction in mathematics.

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Gregg Morris Warnick Brigham Young University

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Gregg M. Warnick is the Director of the Weidman Center for Global Leadership and Associate Teaching Professor of Engineering Leadership within the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology at Brigham Young University (BYU). The center provides oversight for leadership development and international activities within the college and he works actively with students, faculty and staff to promote and develop increased capabilities in global agility and leadership. His research and teaching interests include developing global agility, globalization, leadership, project management, ethics, and manufacturing processes. Gregg has lived in numerous locations within the USA and Europe and has worked in many places including North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. Prior to joining BYU, Gregg worked for Becton Dickinson, a Global Medical Technology fortune 500 Company. In this capacity he worked as a product development engineer, quality engineer, technical lead, business leader and program/project manager managing many different global projects. Gregg received his PhD in Educational Leadership and Higher Education from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a Master of Technology Management degree and a BS in Manufacturing Engineering Technology, from Brigham Young University. Gregg also does consulting in project management and leadership working with IPS Learning and Stanford University where he provides training for fortune 500 companies throughout the world.

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Brent K. Jesiek Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Brent K. Jesiek is Associate Professor in the Schools of Engineering Education and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University. He is also an Associate Director of Purdue’s Office of Global Engineering Programs, leads the Global Engineering Education Collaboratory (GEEC) research group, and is the recipient of an NSF CAREER award to study boundary-spanning roles and competencies among early career engineers. He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Michigan Tech and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech. Dr. Jesiek draws on expertise from engineering, computing, and the social sciences to advance understanding of geographic, disciplinary, and historical variations in engineering education and practice.

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Randall Davies Brigham Young Unversity

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Dr. Davies is currently an assistant professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University. His research involves program evaluation in educational settings with the general objective of understanding and improving the teaching and learning process. His research has a specific focus of evaluating technology integration, assessment policy, and educational practices.

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For students pursuing engineering degrees, training in ethics, social responsibility, and allied topics is advocated by a variety of stakeholders, mandated in ABET accreditation requirements, and largely presumed by professional associations and licensing bodies. As a consequence, almost all engineering students have at least some exposure to engineering ethics training. Additionally, many formal courses and programs have been created to promote ethical integrity and professional responsibility among engineering graduates, while a variety of other interventions (e.g., service learning programs) have been developed to more broadly challenge engineering students to see themselves as socially engaged citizens and professionals.

Nonetheless, there has been a surprising lack of research on development of social and ethical responsibility among undergraduate engineering students. Few studies have systematically examined levels of ethical knowledge, decision-making capabilities, and commitments to social responsibility among large numbers of engineering students, much less examined how such indicators change over time and are impacted (or not) by specific kinds of learning experiences. As a result, faculty, administrators, and other stakeholders have little evidence to guide creation of high-impact courses and programs. Still other recent research suggests that such impacts may be blunted by a “culture of disengagement” that pervades many engineering schools. This paper reports on an National Science Foundation (NSF) supported CCE STEM research project that aims to address some of these gaps. Our study addresses two main questions:

RQ1: What do engineering students perceive as responsible (and irresponsible) professional conduct, and what do they perceive as socially just (and unjust) technical practices?, and

RQ2: How do foundational measures and understandings of social and ethical responsibility change during a four-year engineering degree program, both in general and in relation to specific kinds of learning experiences?

This paper offers an overview of the longitudinal mixed-methods study design we are using to collect and analyze quantitative and qualitative data from undergraduate engineering students at four universities. These schools represent a variety of institution types, and each has students in programs of particular interest, e.g., those involving service-learning or intensified ethics instruction. Our data collection efforts were initiated in early Fall 2015, with survey responses collected from 757 first-semester engineering students at four schools. The survey includes items and measures related to engineering ethics knowledge, justice beliefs, political and social involvement, macro-ethical considerations, moral attentiveness, moral disengagement, ethical climate, and extensive demographics. Repeat measures will be collected from as many of the original respondents as possible during their fifth and eighth academic semesters. To more deeply probe constructs and themes of interest, we will also conduct semi-structured interviews with more than 10% of survey respondents during their first and eighth academic semesters.

In addition to describing our ambitious and novel study design, this paper reports preliminary insights from the first phase of our study. We especially focus on some highlights from our initial analysis of the survey data, as well as how select survey results are being used to stratify the interview sample and tune the interview protocol to focus on some observed patterns in the survey data. We expect this paper will be of interest to scholars involved with teaching and/or conducting research on ethics, social responsibility, and related topics.

Fuentes, D. S., & Warnick, G. M., & Jesiek, B. K., & Davies, R. (2016, June), A Longitudinal Study of Social and Ethical Responsibility Among Undergraduate Engineering Students: Preliminary Results Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26348

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2016 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015