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In their own words: Engineering students’ views on the relationship between the engineering profession and society

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Assessment of Community Engagement

Tagged Division

Community Engagement Division

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.724.1 - 23.724.11



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Paper Authors


Nathan E Canney P.E. University of Colorado Boulder

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Nathan Canney is a doctoral candidate in Civil Engineering, with a research focus on engineering education. Nathan has bachelor's degrees in Civil Engineering and Mathematics from Seattle University and a master's degree in Structural Engineering from Stanford University. His current research focuses on the development of personal and professional social responsibility in engineering students.

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Tess Bowling University of Colorado at Boulder


Angela R Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Dr. Angela Bielefeldt, P.E., is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering (CEAE). She is currently the associate chair for Undergraduate Education in CEAE and has served as the ABET assessment coordinator since 2008. She began incorporating service-learning (SL) projects into the capstone design course for environmental engineering in 2001. This began her journey to determine how to rigorously assess the learning outcomes for students who worked on SL projects as compared to other types of projects in the course. Her engineering education research interests also include students' attitudes and knowledge about sustainable engineering, engineering ethics, and attracting and retaining women in engineering.

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In their own words: How engineering students view themselves as future engineers in societyAs the engineering profession advances, there is a recognition that engineers must interact acrossdisciplinary and cultural boundaries to successfully address complex problems. Directly orindirectly, an engineer’s work affects society and therefore it is critical that they give fullconsideration to those effects throughout the design process. The Engineering AccreditationCommission of ABET recognizes this in Criterion 3.h stating that students should possess “thebroad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global,economic, environmental, and societal context.” With the profession and engineering educatorspushing towards this goal, it seems critical to talk with students to find out how they view theengineering profession in society and, more specifically, how they see their roles, as futureengineers, in society.Twenty-five students representing Civil, Environmental, Mechanical, and AerospaceEngineering, mostly Juniors, Seniors and Graduate students, were engaged in conversationsaround their views of social responsibility and the role of engineering in society. Theseinterviews lasted 30-60 minutes and were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using emergentcoding consistent with ethnographic methods. Three different interview methods were used toelicit conversation; semi-structured interviews, interviews focused on questions from a surveyabout attitudes of personal and professional responsibility, and finally a variation of RappaportTimelines used to examine life events which students identified as formative for their views ofengineering and society. This paper discusses the main themes that emerged from theseinterviews, namely students’ perspectives on three key relationships: 1) themselves with society,2) engineering with society, and 3) themselves with engineering. Preliminary analysis highlightsa wide range of beliefs including minimalist perspectives of not intentionally harming people, todeeply held beliefs of responsibility due to one’s privilege. Students also appear to credithumanities courses and extracurricular activities more often as influencing their beliefs thanengineering courses.

Canney, N. E., & Bowling, T., & Bielefeldt, A. R. (2013, June), In their own words: Engineering students’ views on the relationship between the engineering profession and society Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19738

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