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Board 86 : Risk Management and Ethics in Capstone Design

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Engineering Ethics Division Poster Session

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

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Paper Authors


Elizabeth A. Debartolo Rochester Institute of Technology

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Elizabeth A. DeBartolo, PhD is the Director of the Multidisciplinary Senior Design Program at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where students from Biomedical, Computer, Electrical, Industrial, and Mechanical Engineering work together on multidisciplinary teams to complete a 2-semester design and build project. She received her graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University and has worked at RIT since 2000.

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Wade Lee Robison

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Engineers make ethical decisions all the time in solving design problems, which is the intellectual core of engineering. They need to make those decisions and the grounds for them explicit. Careful examination of a course’s syllabus can reveal how the ethical considerations already there can be made explicit. The Ethics Across the Curriculum (EAC) program at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) was designed to bring together faculty from diverse disciplines across the university, who would then spend time examining their syllabi, and seeing how ethical considerations could be made explicit or naturally introduced as an integral part of the course, not as an add-on. One of the engineering areas targeted was the college-wide senior design course sequence, since 80-90% of the college’s graduating seniors enroll each year and improvements here affect nearly all of the graduates (Biomedical, Computer, Electrical, Industrial, and Mechanical Engineering).

Risk management has been identified as a natural avenue for incorporating ethics into senior design. Prior to the instructor’s EAC participation, the focus of risk management instruction was on technical and resource risks that could prevent the team from completing their project. That focus often had little bearing on the use of their product or process after it is handed off to the customer. This is therefore not necessarily indicative of ethical considerations. After EAC participation, new instructional content has been created that highlights five risk categories that extend the consideration of risks beyond the completion of the project: technical, resource, safety, societal, and environmental risks. When teams consider safety, societal, and environmental risks, they have considered, at least at a cursory level, the harms that their decisions may cause and how a redesign could mitigate or remove those harms.

The questions the authors seek to answer are: (1) Were students able, after seeing examples, to consider risks related to harms that their designs may cause? (2) Did the balance of risks related to technical and resource challenges, compared with risks related to harms that could be caused, vary depending on the type of project examined? And (3) where are the opportunities for improvement in integrating ethics into risk management in the senior design sequence? This paper includes a review of risks identified by senior design teams before and after revision of the instructional module on risk management. After the revision, the overall number of risks teams identified did not change, but a higher percentage of the risks identified were related to safety, societal, and environmental harms. Both before and after the revision, risks were compared across different project categories. Before the revision, teams working on projects for industrial sponsors identified the highest percentage of their risks as social or environmental.

Debartolo, E. A., & Robison, W. L. (2018, June), Board 86 : Risk Management and Ethics in Capstone Design Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30123

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