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A Study Of Risk Communication In Engineering And Management Curricula

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Developing ABET Outcomes F--J

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.114.1 - 7.114.15



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Paper Authors

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Timothy Hoffman

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Christopher Zappe

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Steven Shooter

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Michael O'Donnell

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Session 2566

A Study of Risk Communication in Engineering and Management Curricula

Timothy J. Hoffman, Steven B. Shooter, Christopher J. Zappe, Michael R. O’Donnell Bucknell University


An examination of problems in risk assessment and communication among management and engineering disciplines is undertaken in an attempt to recognize inadequacies in engineering students’ skills in properly communicating risk. This paper presents a study devised to test a set of hypotheses concerning opportunities for improvement in engineering curricula. A better understanding of these shortcomings can lead to the development of methods to improve the learning process for students of engineering in this area. Additionally, within an educational framework, enhanced interaction between engineers and managers would provide for a more effective relationship in industry. This paper describes this protocol study in detail along with observations of students’ communication. Data is presented, conclusions drawn and recommendations given. It is believed that certain areas that contribute to the development of the skill of communication across fields are lacking in engineering curricula. This study attempts to identify these areas to provide insight into the nature of risk communication problems in industry.

1 Introduction

In the pursuit of providing a full complement of technical skills to engineering students, developing management and traditionally “soft” skills is often overlooked. As a result, the graduating engineering student may not possess sufficient skills or at least an awareness of the primary management aims of business. Perhaps one of the most crucial areas that is affected due in part to this perceived gap in engineering education is the students’ abilities to assess and communicate risk within a company.

On January 28, 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger flight 51-L of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) exploded in flight at 73 seconds after liftoff, killing all seven passengers aboard. It was a disaster – not an accident – witnessed by millions of Americans, making it one of the most tragic moments in the nation’s history. This infamous event has been analyzed from all angles, from physical design1,2 to ethics3 to communication4,5 in attempt to understand how and why such a disaster could happen. This study rests on the belief that there were interdisciplinary risk communication problems that can be addressed with an emphasis of “knowledge across fields” in undergraduate education.

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Hoffman, T., & Zappe, C., & Shooter, S., & O'Donnell, M. (2002, June), A Study Of Risk Communication In Engineering And Management Curricula Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10270

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