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Engineering Ethics Case Studies in Senior Unit Operations Laboratory

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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

Chemical Engineering in Silico

Tagged Division

Chemical Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.588.1 - 22.588.7



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Paper Authors

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James P. Abulencia Manhattan College

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Engineering Ethics Case Studies in Senior Unit Operations Laboratory Placement of ethics in the Chemical Engineering curriculum has always beendebated. In this project, the use of a real-world engineering ethics case study wasintegrated into the Senior Unit Operations Laboratory course over two separate classyears (i.e. Year 1 and Year 2). The motivation behind this was twofold. First, theassignment provides the opportunity to develop a student’s oral communication skills.Although oral presentations were an existing component of the course, this assignmentprovided a separate and distinct venue for a student to use this skill. More specifically,students were required to use reason and analysis in presenting their final argument.Second, an ethics component in this course would help bridge the transition betweencollege and the workplace. An ethical dilemma involving the choice between doing whatis right and maintaining a positive bottom line is often seen in industry. Exposure toprevious examples and the decision-making process involved would be beneficial forstudents. The case study used was generated by the Laboratory for Innovative Technologyand Engineering Education (LITEE), and incorporates several ethical issues and moralchallenges that emerge from the interplay of manufacturers, employers, and employees.Prior to presenting the assignment, a short lecture on ethical dilemmas was delivered bythe instructor, thus creating a knowledge base for students. Subsequently, students weredivided into four constituencies, and asked to review the relevant data from the LITEEwebsite. Each group offered their positions through an oral presentation, and followed upwith other questions after all groups have finished. The groups were assessed byattorneys from a local firm. The ultimate questions in this study are: 1) Do students find it important to studyethics in the context of an engineering program, and 2) Is senior laboratory the bestcourse in the chemical engineering curriculum to insert an ethics project. Resultsobtained from surveys after year 1 show that students agreed that it is important to studyethics, but senior lab is not the best venue. Students felt that the assignment was anadditional load in a course that is already work intensive. Moreover, they felt that theassignment improved their presentation skills. When surveying after Year 2, studentsshared the same sentiments as those in year 1, but stated that senior lab is the best venue.One explanation is that the attorneys selected to assess the presentations in Year 2 had anengineering background, while those in the first did not. Student feedback, which wasindependent of the survey, revealed that the comments provided by the attorneys weresubstantiative and supplemented the experience as a whole.

Abulencia, J. P. (2011, June), Engineering Ethics Case Studies in Senior Unit Operations Laboratory Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17869

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