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Development of a Social-justice Mindset Through Discovery Learning from the Conflict Between Safety and Welfare in Engineering Ethics

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Working Against Unjust Social Forces

Tagged Divisions

Equity and Culture & Social Justice in Education

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Paper Authors


Matthew Sleep University of Kentucky

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Matthew Sleep is a Lecturer in the First-Year Engineering Program at the University of Kentucky. Prior to his position at UK, Matthew was an Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at Oregon Institue of Technology. Matthew received his PhD at Virginia Tech researching slope stability, levees, transient seepage and reliability. Matthew is from Nashville, TN and has worked for the United States Army Corps of Engineers and private consulting.

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Yasha Rohwer Oregon Institute of Technology

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Yasha Rohwer is an associate professor of philosophy at the Oregon Institute of Technology. Yasha received his PhD from the University of Missouri. Yasha specializes in philosophy of science and applied ethics-- especially environmental ethics. He teaches logic, professional ethics, and other classes at Oregon Tech to students in many different fields of engineering.

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The National Society of Professional Engineer’s Code of Ethics states that engineers shall, “Hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public.” Previous studies have shown that when engineering solutions to problems, welfare may trade off with safety, if the financial expense of safety negatively impacts a client’s financial welfare. Thus, there is the potential for conflict if engineers seek to hold both safety and welfare to be paramount. Research has shown that undergraduate engineering students favor safety over welfare independent of a client’s ability to pay.

This paper completes a review of published research on student responses to safety and welfare in design supplemented with additional analyses. Based on these results, the authors developed a classroom module, which we present in this paper. In the module, students are presented with a task in which they must design an engineering solution for clients of different socio-economic backgrounds. The task calls upon universal engineering skillsets such that it can be completed by engineering students from any discipline. By highlighting the conflict between safety and welfare in the engineering code of ethics, students may organically arrive at definitions and ideas of social justice such as equity and fair distribution of wealth through a discovery learning process.

Sleep, M., & Rohwer, Y. (2021, July), Development of a Social-justice Mindset Through Discovery Learning from the Conflict Between Safety and Welfare in Engineering Ethics Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--36962

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