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Engineering and Nonengineering Students' Perceptions of Contemporary Ethical Issues

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Sustainability and Humanitarian Engineering

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.576.1 - 22.576.19



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Paper Authors


Seamus F. Freyne Mississippi State University

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Seamus Freyne joined the civil engineering faculty at Mississippi State University last fall. Previously he was employed at Manhattan College and the University of Oklahoma. His research interests include structures, statistics, and ethics.

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James P Abulencia Manhattan College


Powell Draper Manhattan College

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Powell Draper is an Assistant Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at Manhattan College in New York City.

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ENGINEERING AND NONENGINEERING STUDENTS’ PERCEPTIONS OF CONTEMPORARY ETHICAL ISSUESThe practice of engineering in the context of today’s society can raise many ethical issues.Society expects and needs engineers to be cognizant of potential ethical issues and to actethically when confronted by these.This article presents the findings from a survey given to 459 undergraduate students, bothengineers and nonengineers, during the 2009/2010 academic year. The objective of the survey isto understand what students think about ten contemporary ethical issues. The ethical issuesinvolve the work of engineers, but the topics also fall within the realms of philosophy, politics,economics, law, sociology, and psychology. The ethical issues are as follows:1. New transportation corridors through neighborhoods. Commerce depends on an efficient transportation system, but how should society balance public interest and individuals’ rights?2. SUVs. SUVs are very prevalent on roadways now, but should they vanish?3. Agricultural enhancements. To feed a growing world population, should society employ all available technological agricultural advances or adhere to natural practices?4. Space program. Is space exploration an essential quest or just an extravagant waste of resources?5. Weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Is an arsenal of weapons necessary to maintain peace or will WMDs eventually cause world annihilation?6. Nuclear power plants. Is nuclear power a realistic replacement of fossil fuels or should society be wary?7. Violent video games. Do these games corrupt children’s minds or are they just harmless entertainment?8. Dams. Are dams an essential source of water and energy or do they harm the environment irreparably?9. Reconstruction of New Orleans. Should New Orleans be rebuilt and protected against future hurricanes or should residents be asked to settle elsewhere?10. Globalization. Should society fully embrace economic globalization or attempt to keep important jobs here?Students were asked to thoroughly read the summaries of two distinct points of view and thenindicate where they stand on a continuum between them. They were also asked to indicate theirinterest in the ethical issues, if their viewpoints would be likely to change with additional study,and how relevant and important they believe these ethical issues are to them and society.The information collected with this survey will help improve engineering ethics education byincreasing awareness of how engineering ethics applies to everyone, and to think critically aboutwhat engineers do on the job.

Freyne, S. F., & Abulencia, J. P., & Draper, P. (2011, June), Engineering and Nonengineering Students' Perceptions of Contemporary Ethical Issues Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17857

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