Asee peer logo

Ethics For First Year Engineers: The Struggle To Build A Solid Foundation

Download Paper |


2005 Annual Conference


Portland, Oregon

Publication Date

June 12, 2005

Start Date

June 12, 2005

End Date

June 15, 2005



Conference Session

Social Responsibility & Professionalism

Page Count


Page Numbers

10.589.1 - 10.589.9



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Thomas DiStefano

author page

P. Aarne Vesilind

author page

Richard Kozick

author page

Thomas Rich

author page

James Baish

author page

Xiannong Meng

author page

Margot Vigeant

author page

Daniel Cavanagh

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Ethics for First-Year Engineers: The Struggle to Build a Solid Foundation

Margot A.S. Vigeant, James W. Baish, Daniel Cavanagh, Thomas DiStefano, Xiannon Meng, P. Aarne Vesilind, and Ronald D. Ziemian

All: Bucknell University College of Engineering. Departments: Chemical Engineering/ Mechanical Engineering/ Biomedical Engineering/ Civil and Environmental Engineering/ Computer Science/ Civil and Environmental Engineering


Exploring Engineering is a first semester course taken by all incoming engineering students at Bucknell University. The instructional objectives for this course include introducing the disciplines taught at Bucknell, cultivating technical problem solving skills which serve those disciplines, fostering teamwork and communication skills, and developing an understanding of the history and societal impact of engineering. Two years ago, the course was redesigned and has been successful at achieving the first three objectives (Vigeant et al 2003, Vigeant et al 2004). This paper documents our approach to achieving the specific outcomes associated with the final objective, dealing with societal responsibility. The course outcomes for societal responsibility are that students should be able to define professional ethics and associated terminology and apply the fundamental canons of engineering ethics to generate and defend appropriate solutions to ethical dilemmas. These outcomes are particularly important because it provides the foundation for each department’s meeting ABET Program Outcome 3.f, which states graduates “must have an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility.” Historically, both within this course and others, it has been difficult to convince students not only that engineering ethics is relevant, but that it is teachable. In Exploring Engineering, engineering ethics are presented by a combination of techniques, including descriptive lectures from an ethics expert, case studies, and reading books, culminating in a final paper analyzing an ethical problem. The descriptive lectures are accompanied by a book summarizing the ethical responsibilities of engineers, written specifically for this audience. The case studies are a combination of academic responsibility problems and analysis of engineering disasters or near-disasters. The books each center on historical or fictional accounts involving ethical issues resulting from the creations of engineers. The papers are assigned with the goal that students will synthesize all of this information into a coherent analysis of an ethical dilemma presented by their book. This approach has increased the average student response to the statement “This course has improved my understanding of the ethical and professional responsibilities of engineers” from 3.3 to 4.0 on a five-point scale. While student surveys indicate continued resistance to ethics education, our approach is achieving our outcomes.

Proceedings of the 2005 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2005, American Society for Engineering Education

DiStefano, T., & Vesilind, P. A., & Kozick, R., & Rich, T., & Baish, J., & Meng, X., & Vigeant, M., & Cavanagh, D. (2005, June), Ethics For First Year Engineers: The Struggle To Build A Solid Foundation Paper presented at 2005 Annual Conference, Portland, Oregon. 10.18260/1-2--15449

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2005 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015