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Hold Paramount: Designing An Engineering Education To Open Minds And Serve The Public Good

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Topical Public Policy Issues

Tagged Division

Engineering and Public Policy

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.687.1 - 11.687.10



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Paper Authors


Carole Womeldorf Ohio University-Athens

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Carole Womeldorf is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Ohio University. Her areas of technical expertise and interests include distributed energy generation, combustion, heat transfer and fluid dynamics. She worked in the Fire Sciences Division of the Building and Fire Research Laboratory at the National Institute of Standards and Technology from 1993 to 2000. Dr. Womeldorf earned her Sc.B. et A.B. in Mechanical Engineering and English and American Literature from Brown University, her Masters of Science in Oceanographic Engineering from the M.I.T. Wood’s Hole Joint Program, and her Ph.D. degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Johns Hopkins University. She has two children, aged 3 and 7.

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

Hold Paramount: Designing an Engineering Education to Open Minds and Serve the Public Good Engineering and Public Policy Division


The NSPE Code of Ethics states engineers “shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically, and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation, and usefulness of the profession...” In this paper, rather than discuss the teaching of engineering ethics, the author will explore the significance of the “hold paramount” principle for engineering educators, the engineering curriculum, and its potential impact on public policy and the student body. How we teach engineering may in fact dominate the ethical and societal lessons we wish to teach. Questions explored include: How can one effectively and practically teach fundamental engineering concepts in a way that will equip our graduates to embody these ideals? Does this principle instruct us, as engineers and educators, to focus on public policy and our society’s technological choices? Finally, how can we, as engineering educators teach students to responsibly tackle the ethical questions that lack a quantitative answer? An introduction of a three- tiered approach to encompass the range of issues involved is described. Specifically, strategies from chess instruction, computer games, and the potential power of a graduate with knowledge of competence, self, and the surrounding world are described.

In Gunn and Vesilind’s book of the same name, Hold Paramount,1 they skillfully prod and poke at the ethical issues facing professional engineers that most of us wish would just go away. If everyone were honest and honorably motivated then these problems wouldn’t exist, we rationalize. We find these tricky questions of right and wrong, honesty and duty to self and society, frustrating, puzzling, even painful. As they aptly state: “There seem to be lots of different points of view in ethics, and not everyone will agree on the best solution to an ethical problem. Too bad the ethicists can’t be as efficient as the engineers.” Ethical problems are different from engineering problems, right? In engineering problems there is one right answer. But in the profession of engineering the real quandary lies not in the answer, but in asking the right questions. After a brief calculation an engineer decides, yes, a beam can support 500 kg.

Womeldorf, C. (2006, June), Hold Paramount: Designing An Engineering Education To Open Minds And Serve The Public Good Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--989

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