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How do Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineering Students Compare?: Ethically Speaking

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Ethics in different disciplines

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.781.1 - 22.781.9



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Paper Authors


Brock E. Barry U.S. Military Academy

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Dr. Barry is an Assistant Professor and course director in the Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He predominately teaches in the area of engineering mechanics. His current areas of research include professional ethics, economic factors influencing engineering education, identity development, and non-verbal communication. Dr. Barry is a licensed professional engineer with multiple years of consulting experience.

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JoAnna C. Whitener U.S. Military Academy, West Point

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Dr. Whitener is an assistant professor and statistical consultant in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point. She predominately teaches in the area of statistics. Her current areas of research include statistics education, Bayesian theory and methods, and adaptive designs in clinical trials.

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How do Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineering Students Compare? - Ethically SpeakingAs part of a previously completed doctoral dissertation, a mixed-methods (quantitative-qualitative) research program was designed and implemented to evaluate the methods ofincorporating ethics and professionalism in the engineering curriculum. In particular, the natureof the relationship between curriculum model used and outcomes on a nationally administered,engineering-specific standardized examination was the focus of the study. The study’spopulation included engineering students enrolled at nine southeastern public universitiesbetween October 1996 and April 2005. The institutions are partners in the Multiple-InstitutionDatabase for Investigating Engineering Longitudinal Development (MIDFIELD) project. Thecurriculum models used by the participating programs were identified and defined for the periodof the study and a quantitative process was implemented to compare those models relative toperformance on the ethics and professionalism section of the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE)Examination. The FE Examination is a nationally administered, engineering-specificexamination generated and governed by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering andSurveying (NCEES). The FE Examination is the only nationally administered examinationdesigned to align with the intended knowledge gained as part of an ABET-accredited program.The student-level database authorized for use in this study by NCEES contains a sortedpopulation of nearly 10,000 individuals.Multiple noteworthy outcomes of this study have been reported and presented previously. Theoutcomes include discussion of time-on-task relationships, institutional variations, andchronological correlations. Although disciplinary differences were not a primary focus of thecompleted study, statistically significant differences were observed between the aggregateperformance of the civil engineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineeringmembers of the study’s population. Additional statistical analysis illustrated that electricalengineering and civil engineering students perform better on the ethics and professionalismsection of the FE Examination than they do on the Examination as a whole. Conversely,mechanical engineering students tend to score lower on the ethics and professionalism section ofthe examination than they do on the Examination as a whole.Building on prior efforts, the current study investigated disciplinary differences in performanceon the ethics and professional section of FE Examination. This included application ofdescriptive and inferential statistics to appraise the previously noted differences between the civilengineering, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering aggregate performance on theethics section of the Examination. While this investigation cannot identify which disciplinegenerates the most ethical or professional engineers, it does clearly identify which discipline inthis institutional sample is the best at preparing its students for the ethics and professionalismsection of the FE Examination.

Barry, B. E., & Whitener, J. C. (2011, June), How do Civil, Electrical, and Mechanical Engineering Students Compare?: Ethically Speaking Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18062

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