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First Year Engineering Students' Perceptions Of Contemporary Ethical Issues

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Contemporary Issues in Engineering Ethics

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.588.1 - 15.588.19



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Paper Authors


Seamus Freyne Manhattan College

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A member of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) since 2003, Seamus Freyne is an assistant professor of civil engineering at Manhattan College in New York City. His research interests include concrete materials, infrastructure reliability, and ethics. He is also active with the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

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J.Patrick Abulencia Manhattan College

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James Patrick Abulencia is an assistant professor at Manhattan College. He received his B.S. degree in chemical engineering from Manhattan College, and his Ph.D. in chemical and biomolecular engineering from Johns Hopkins University. In addition to studies in engineering education, Dr. Abulencia’s research interests include water purification using natural materials, and alternative energy solutions. He is an active member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE), American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE), and Tau Beta Pi.

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Powell Draper Manhattan College

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Powell Draper is an assistant professor of civil engineering at Manhattan College in New York City and has been a member of the American Society for Engineering Education since 2009. His research interests include the history of engineering, structural aesthetics, and sustainable structures.

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



The work of engineers has a profound effect on society, and society in turn places a high level of trust and confidence in engineers. The infrastructure and the products and services that engineers provide can enhance the quality of life and protect lives, and by corollary they can also inadvertently diminish the quality of life and destroy lives. Society expects and needs engineers to be cognizant of potential ethical issues and to act ethically when confronted by these. Engineering ethics is momentously important, and the study of ethics is fundamental to an engineering education.1,2

The importance of ethics as a key component of modern engineering curricula is demonstrated by the many ethics questions included in both the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exams. The accreditation organization ABET recommends that students understand professional and ethical responsibilities and recognize the impact of engineering solutions in a broad perspective.

Ethics is not an easy subject to teach. Many professors lack experience in this area and the methods they use can be too theoretical, extraneous, or simplistic.3 Case studies are an effective way to teach engineering ethics, with real cases more likely to captivate and challenge students than hypothetical ones, and contemporary cases more applicable than historical ones. Hypothetical cases can be useful, but reality tends to have an intricacy that is hard to invent, and real cases usually resist obvious and easy solutions. There are many classic historical cases, but contemporary cases allow students to easily place themselves in the situation and claim a sense of ownership. Students may already know the basic facts of some real, contemporary ethical cases, which are in abundant supply. The practice of engineering in the context of today’s society is an extremely complex enterprise and presents many ethical issues to study.4,5,6,7

This article presents the findings from a survey given to first year engineering students. The authors developed the survey with the objective to understand what students think about ten contemporary ethical issues, all real cases with great complexity. The ethical issues involve 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?

Freyne, S., & Abulencia, J., & Draper, P. (2010, June), First Year Engineering Students' Perceptions Of Contemporary Ethical Issues Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16419

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: © 2010 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