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Ethical Development in Undergraduate Engineering: Results from a Multi-University Survey

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Conference

2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access

Location

Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

Page Count

4

Permanent URL

https://peer.asee.org/37099

Download Count

81

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Paper Authors

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Michaela Leigh LaPatin P.E. University of Texas at Austin

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Michaela LaPatin is pursuing her MS and PhD in Civil Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. Her current research focuses on macroethics education in undergraduate engineering programs.

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Cristina Poleacovschi Iowa State University

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Dr. Poleacovschi is an Assistant Professor at Iowa State University. She researches issues of diversity and focuses on intersectional aspects of microaggressions.

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Kate Padgett Walsh Iowa State University of Science and Technology Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0002-5215-6475

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Dr. Kate Padgett Walsh is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Iowa State University. She received a B.A. from Middlebury College, an M.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a Ph.D. from Northwestern University. Her research focuses on ethics and the history of ethics, including the ethics of debt and finance, as well as the scholarship of teaching and learning.

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Scott Grant Feinstein Iowa State University

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Dr. Scott Feinstein is an expert in research design and comparative and identity politics.

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Luan Minh Nguyen Iowa State University Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0002-3183-4804

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Kasey M. Faust University of Texas at Austin Orcid 16x16 orcid.org/0000-0001-7986-4757

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Dr. Kasey Faust is an Assistant Professor in Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research on sociotechnical systems—primarily water sector infrastructure—aims to improve service to communities. Dr. Faust’s work spans the project phase during construction through the operations phase, exploring human-infrastructure interactions, infrastructure interdependencies, and the institutional environment. Current studies within her research group include: human-water sector infrastructure interdependencies in cities experiencing urban decline; disaster migration and the resilience of the built environment; incorporating equity into water infrastructure decision-making; sociotechnical modeling of infrastructure systems including gentrification and food deserts; the impact of policies and regulations on the built environment; understanding the impact of institutional elements on projects; and modeling of public perceptions.

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Abstract

During undergraduate engineering education, curriculum often focuses on technical knowledge rather than ethical development. The role of ethics within the engineering profession, whether broadly or as it applies to specific circumstances, is often given a cursory lesson rather than being woven throughout the curriculum for optimal understanding. When ethics is incorporated into curriculum, programs tend to focus on microethics concerning issues that arise in particular contexts and interactions between individuals, rather than macroethics that address societal concerns more broadly. Notably, students often obtain an informal ethics education—i.e., education outside of the classroom— through involvement in student organizations, internships, or daily interactions with peers. For instance, a student interning at a water resources engineering firm might visit the project site of a stormwater revitalization. Upon visiting, the student can recognize the disparities between communities that typically receive these services fist and those communities of color and lower socioeconomic status that are often ignored. Witnessing this unjust system firsthand can encourage that student to consider systemic inequities in future work. Experiences such as this contribute to a student’s ethical development and can impact their work as an engineering professional. In this study, we aim to understand the differences in ethical development among students based on sociodemographic factors. In April 2020, we deployed a survey to undergraduate students at two universities to assess ethical development using the Defining Issues Test (DIT). The results of this test include a numeric rating indicating the student’s level of ethical development based on Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development. By using the DIT, we were able to produce a standardized metric to evaluate ethical development across universities, majors, and sociodemographic factors. We used statistical inferencing to explore how sociodemographics were associated with ethics. Here we present the survey analyses, showing that certain demographics may impact a student’s ethical development. For instance, the preliminary results of this study show that women scored higher on the DIT than men. Additionally, those students who identified as liberal had a higher score than those who identified as conservative, and those who identified as less religious scored higher than those who identified as very religious. These results suggest that ethical decisions are grounded in political and religious beliefs. Further research can identify why and how political and religious views influence ethical decision-making.

LaPatin, M. L., & Poleacovschi, C., & Padgett Walsh, K., & Feinstein, S. G., & Nguyen, L. M., & Faust, K. M. (2021, July), Ethical Development in Undergraduate Engineering: Results from a Multi-University Survey Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. https://peer.asee.org/37099

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