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Leadership and Ethics in Undergraduate and Graduate Curricula at a Hispanic-serving Institution

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2022 ASEE Gulf Southwest Annual Conference


Prairie View, Texas

Publication Date

March 16, 2022

Start Date

March 16, 2022

End Date

March 18, 2022

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Matthew Lucian Alexander P.E. Texas A&M University - Kingsville

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Dr. Alexander graduated with a BS in Engineering Science from Trinity University, a MS in Chemical Engineering from Georgia Tech, and a PhD in Chemical Engineering from Purdue University. He worked for 25 years in environmental engineering consulting before joining the faculty at Texas A&M University-Kingsville in 2015.

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The characteristics of leadership and ethical behavior are not considered as principal instructional topics in engineering curricula, although they are important traits for engineering graduates to possess, since the public relies on engineers instilling safety and public welfare in their work. The importance of these traits for engineers to possess is further established by their inclusion in ABET student outcomes 4 and 5, which must be demonstrated in all ABET-accredited engineering programs. Therefore, instruction in leadership and ethics is an important aspect to be included in undergraduate and graduate engineering education. At our Hispanic-serving institution, aspects of leadership and ethics are explored in the capstone senior design course sequence for chemical engineering, and in master’s thesis and doctoral seminar courses. Since these topics are not typical quantitative math or engineering topics, instruction in these areas is achieved using demonstration or direct experience for leadership, and by case study review and discussion for ethics. In the capstone senior design course sequence, the instructor provides tools for effective project management to the student group leaders, and it is up to them to use these effectively to ensure project success. Most groups demonstrate a learning curve ranging from several weeks to two months before effectively adopting and utilizing these project management tools. Ethics is also taught in the capstone course by introducing ethical canons for engineers, such as those set forth by NSPE or other professional organizations, and then discussing case studies in which ethical lapses by engineering designers or project teams resulted in failures and possible loss of life. At the graduate level, ethics is discussed again through case study review, and also through discussions about plagiarism. Leadership by itself is not discussed directly in graduate courses, although the instructor emphasizes the need for student self-reliance to complete their thesis or dissertation. This instructor has observed recent ethical lapses involving both undergraduate and graduate students over the last several years. In particular, the less supervised environment of virtual learning due to the COVID pandemic has led some students to test the boundaries of unethical behavior, such as by cheating on exams administered virtually and by plagiarism in the preparation of graduate thesis documents. In these several cases, the instructor informed each student of his particular finding of the unethical behavior, assigned a failing grade for the particular incident, and reported the student’s behavior to the Dean of Students. Bringing to light such incidents to other students, without any personal identification, has been used to ensure minimal future incidents of a similar nature. A measure of success in this approach to ethics instruction is a former student contacting this instructor after graduation to discuss his options in a recent situation of unethical behavior in his workplace. Ethical lapses among young professional may become more prevalent as work from home conditions continue or prevail post-COVID pandemic.

Alexander, M. L. (2022, March), Leadership and Ethics in Undergraduate and Graduate Curricula at a Hispanic-serving Institution Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Gulf Southwest Annual Conference, Prairie View, Texas.

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