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Integrating Ethics Into The Freshman Engineering Curriculum: An Interdisciplinary Approach

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.328.1 - 4.328.7

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Paper Authors

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Tom Ward

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Elizabeth Alford

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

Session 2561

Integrating Ethics into the Freshman Curriculum: An Interdisciplinary Approach

Elisabeth Alford, Tom Ward University of South Carolina


To ensure that undergraduate engineers have a deep and practical understanding of professional ethics, engineering colleges are developing ways to integrate ethics throughout their curriculum. The freshman engineering course is the logical and appropriate time to begin discussion of professional ethics, long before students are confronted with the tough decisions they may have to make later. The challenge is to find meaningful ways to engage freshman in analyzing ethical challenges.

This presentation explains a collaborative approach to integrating an ethics module into University 101-Engineering (UNIV 101-E), a freshman course for engineering students at the University of South Carolina patterned after USC’s nationally recognized Freshman Year Experience course, University 101. Sections of the engineering course described here include a classroom instruction and discussion on the NSPE Code of Ethics and case studies which students gather from specified websites. To support the classroom instruction, the course instructor and the director of the College of Engineering’s Professional Communications Center collaborated in developing a reflective writing assignment related to the NSPE Code. After completing the search, students write reflective papers analyzing the cases by provisions of the Code. Students then receive an introduction to Toulmin logic, a system of practical reasoning to aid their analysis. Following group discussion of the cases, students then write a team report in which they examine their understanding of the Fundamental Canons of Ethics.

This joint paper outlines the entire module: the website searches, materials used in the course, points to covered in the discussion of the Code and the reflective paper assignment. Rationales for the activities are described.

I. Introduction

As even a brief literature and Internet search will reveal, integration of ethics instruction into freshman engineering courses is flourishing.1-5 The NSPE WWW Ethics Center provides access to information about ethics modules used in a number of engineering colleges.2 The objectives of these modules are to introduce students to ethical situations and questions similar to those they will encounter in professional lives and to help them examine alternative courses of action.

Ward, T., & Alford, E. (1999, June), Integrating Ethics Into The Freshman Engineering Curriculum: An Interdisciplinary Approach Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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