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Fitting The Essentials Into The Ch E Curriculum: Ethics, Professionalism, Environmental Health & Safety

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.288.1 - 3.288.3



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Paper Authors

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Wallace B. Whiting

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Joseph A. Shaeiwitz

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Ph.D., Richard H. Turpin

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Richard C. Bailie

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

Session 2213

Fitting the Essentials into the ChE Curriculum: Ethics, Professionalism, Environmental Health & Safety Wallace B. Whiting*, Joseph A. Shaeiwitz†, Richard Turton†, Richard C. Bailie† *University of Nevada, Reno, †West Virginia University

The essence of chemical engineering is creating processes, materials, and devices that enhance society. Far from “extras” to fit into an already “full” curriculum, the teaching of ethics, professionalism, and environmental health & safety is essential in any B.S.Ch.E. program. These are chemical engineering topics as important as transport phenomena, as fundamental as thermodynamics, and as crucial to the professional success of our graduates as a firm grounding in material and energy balances and process design.

In this paper, instruction modules for ethics and professionalism and for environmental health & safety are presented. We use these modules in the senior design class; however, they stand alone and can be used most anywhere in the curriculum. More details are available in a new, recently published textbook for the capstone design class.1

Ethics and Professionalism

The purpose of this module is to teach students their ethical and legal responsibilities as professional engineers and to help them develop strategies to make the best choice when faced with an ethical dilemma. The goal is to help them obtain moral autonomy, which is defined as the ability to make one’s own ethical decisions. Much of this is accomplished via class and small group discussions. One source of material for discussion is a set of case studies from several different references.1 Another is the web site for the Ethics Center for Engineering and Science.2 One example we always use is the case where a student has accepted one job offer only to receive another, better offer. Students are asked how they would respond. This is a particularly interesting case because students’ responses have changed over the last decade or so. Back then, almost all students said that accepting the first offer committed them to that company. Now, students say that they would have no problems accepting the better offer. The most often cited justification is lack of corporate loyalty to workers (“They would not hesitate to fire me if they had to.”), and that it is now rare for someone to spend their entire career with one employer (“People quit jobs all of the time.”). In the discussion, the faculty resist giving their opinions of right and wrong, unless there are clear legal issues. The goal is for the students to confront their own values and learn to solve their own ethical dilemmas. An added benefit from these discussions is that faculty learn more about their students’ values and concerns.

Videos and movies are also a rich source of material for class discussion. We show the movie Acceptable Risks, originally aired on ABC in 1986. It presents a Bhopal-like scenario involving a chemical plant in a one-industry town under pressure to increase production at all costs while local developers are simultaneously building housing communities very close to the plant. The results are predictable, yet still provide a good source of material for class discussion.

Whiting, W. B., & Shaeiwitz, J. A., & Turpin, P. R. H., & Bailie, R. C. (1998, June), Fitting The Essentials Into The Ch E Curriculum: Ethics, Professionalism, Environmental Health & Safety Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/1-2--7132

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