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Foundations of Social and Ethical Responsibility Among Undergraduate Engineering Students: Project Overview

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

June 29, 2016





Conference Session

NSF Grantees Poster Session II

Tagged Topics

Diversity and NSF Grantees Poster Session

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Paper Authors


Carla B. Zoltowski Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Carla B. Zoltowski, Ph.D., is Co-Director of the EPICS Program at Purdue University. She received her B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering and Ph.D. in engineering education, all from Purdue University. She has served as a lecturer in Purdue’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Dr. Zoltowski’s academic and research interests broadly include the professional formation of engineers and diversity and inclusion in engineering, with specific interests in human-centered design, engineering ethics, leadership, service-learning, assistive-technology, and accessibility.

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Brent K Jesiek Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Dr. Brent K. Jesiek is Associate Professor in the Schools of Engineering Education and Electrical and Computer Engineering at Purdue University. He is also an Associate Director of Purdue’s Global Engineering Program, leads the Global Engineering Education Collaboratory (GEEC) research group, and is the recipient of an NSF CAREER award to study boundary-spanning roles and competencies among early career engineers. He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Michigan Tech and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Science and Technology Studies (STS) from Virginia Tech. Dr. Jesiek draws on expertise from engineering, computing, and the social sciences to advance understanding of geographic, disciplinary, and historical variations in engineering education and practice.

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Stephanie A. Claussen Colorado School of Mines

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Stephanie Claussen’s experience spans both engineering and education research. She obtained her B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2005. Her Ph.D. work at Stanford University focused on optoelectronics, and she continues that work in her position at the Colorado School of Mines, primarily with the involvement of undergraduate researchers. In her role as an Associate Teaching Professor, she is primarily tasked with the education of undergraduate engineers. In her courses, she employs active learning techniques and project-based learning. Her previous education research, also at Stanford, focused on the role of cultural capital in science education. Her current interests include engineering students' development of social responsibility and the impact of students' backgrounds in their formation as engineers.

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David H Torres Purdue University

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David is a second year doctoral student in the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University pursuing a PhD in Organizational Communication with a minor in data analysis and research methodology. His research interests reside at the intersection of organizational communication, organizational ethics, social network analysis, identity and identification, and leadership development.

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Recognizing the critical roles played by technical professionals in serving the public and addressing grand challenges, many stakeholders advocate intensified ethics training for current and future engineers. In response, many formal courses and programs have been created to promote professional responsibility and ethical integrity among engineering graduates. Other interventions (e.g., service learning programs) have been developed to more broadly challenge engineering students to see themselves as engaged citizens and community members. Yet there has been a lack of research on measures and understandings of social and ethical responsibility among undergraduate engineering students. Further, few studies have looked at how such indicators change over time and are impacted by specific kinds of learning experiences. As a result, faculty and administrators often have little evidence to guide creation of high-impact courses and programs. Other recent research also suggests that the impacts of such interventions may be blunted by pervasive "cultures of disengagement" in many engineering schools.

This NSF-supported CCE STEM research project aims to shed additional light on these issues, with an emphasis on three main objectives: O1) Characterize patterns of ethical development among undergraduate engineering students, O2) Identify specific context variables (e.g., climate and culture of programs and institutions) and types of interventions (e.g., formal ethics instruction, service learning programs, etc.) that have positive (or negative) impacts on foundational measures and understandings of social and ethical responsibility, and O3) Identify specific student characteristics that can be leveraged to grow programs oriented toward social and/or ethical responsibility, while increasing program alignment with – and impacts on – participating individuals. As these objectives suggest, we intend that findings from this project can help guide ongoing efforts to positively impact the social and ethical commitments of engineering graduates, including through research-based recommendations for curricular reform.

In this paper we describe this research project in more detail, with particular emphasis on the longitudinal, mixed-methods study design being leveraged in support of the objectives given above. More specifically, we present our research questions, study contexts, target subject populations, and procedures for quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis, as well as some possible limitations to our approach. We additionally discuss the novel, ambitious, and comparative nature of this project given that its collaborators and research subjects are drawn from four U.S. engineering schools, and we review our progress to date and plans for bringing the project to completion over a five-year timeline. This paper will likely be of particular interest to scholars who teach and/or research engineering ethics, social responsibility, and allied topics.

Zoltowski, C. B., & Jesiek, B. K., & Claussen, S. A., & Torres, D. H. (2016, June), Foundations of Social and Ethical Responsibility Among Undergraduate Engineering Students: Project Overview Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.26953

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