Asee peer logo

Social Responsibility Attitudes of First-Year Engineering Students and the Impact of Courses

Download Paper |


2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

FPD 7: Beyond Course Content

Tagged Division

First-Year Programs

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.1089.1 - 24.1089.16



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Angela R Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

visit author page

Angela Bielefeldt, Ph.D., P.E., is a Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, & Architectural Engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. She has been on the faculty since 1996. She serves as the ABET Assessment Coordinator for the Department. Professor Bielefeldt teaches introductory courses for first year engineering students, senior capstone design, and environmental engineering specialty courses. She conducts engineering education research related to learning through service (LTS), social responsibility, sustainability, ethics, and globalization.

visit author page


Nathan E. Canney PE Seattle University

visit author page

Nathan is currently an instructor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Seattle University, teaching courses in mechanics and structural design. His research focuses on engineering education, specifically the development of social responsibility in engineering students. As part of that research focus, engineering based service experiences, such as service-learning or Engineers Without Borders, are being examined as potential educational interventions that could be used to promote increased views of social responsibility in engineering students. Nathan has bachelors degrees in Civil Engineering and Applied Mathematics from Seattle University, a masters degree in Civil Engineering from Stanford University and a doctoral degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Colorado Boulder.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Social Responsibility Attitudes of First Year Engineering Students and the Impact of CoursesOne of the messages that engineering is using to attract students into engineering is the benefit ofengineering to society and the world. But to what extent do students view this as a responsibilityfor engineers to serve society? Is an understanding of ethical responsibility a first step to a largergoal of social responsibility (SR)? Many first year engineering programs are designed tointroduce these ideas to students. Ethics is often introduced in required first year engineeringcourses. Service-learning is integrated into a number of first year project courses, demonstratingthe social good that can come from engineering. This research explored SR attitudes among firstyear engineering students, if these attitudes changed over the first year, and what may haveimpacted these views.Methods. Students from five institutions were invited to participate in the study, which primarilytargeted civil, environmental, and mechanical engineering majors. Students were invited tocomplete the Engineering Professional Responsibility Assessment (EPRA), a tool that has beendemonstrated to be reliable and valid. Students took the survey online at the beginning of thesemester in fall 2012 and again near the end of spring semester 2013. The survey included 50Likert questions that “scored” students’ sense of social responsibility on a 7-point scale. Othersurvey questions asked about the importance of different career attributes, students’ participationin volunteer activities before college (pre survey) and during the first year of college (postsurvey), and demographics. The post survey included the open response question: “Were thereany classes in this last year that you found influential to your views of social responsibility?Why/in what ways?” These open responses were coded into themes. The required curricula andcourse descriptions at each institution were explored using the published 2012/2013 catalogs.Results. There was little change in the SR attitudes of the first year students as a cohort (n=164).A paired two-tailed pre-post t-test only found differences in the EPRA sub-scales of ProfessionalAbility (p=0.002) and potentially Engineering Base Skills (p=0.085). Paired t-tests among thepre- and post- responses on the full suite of Likert questions identified 54 individuals withsignificant difference (p<0.05); 28 decreased in SR attitudes and 26 increased in SR attitudes.In response to the courses that impact SR, 19% left the question blank, 42% indicated nocourses, and 39% included a response. Of those with a course response, 59% listed a requiredengineering course (typically a first year introductory or projects course), 41% listed a non-engineering course (typically a humanities or social science elective), and 9% listed anengineering elective [the total does not sum to 100% since some students listed more than onecourse and these courses fell into multiple categories]. Differences in the percentage of studentswho indicated that no courses related to SR varied significantly between institutions and majors,ranging from 0% to 73%. Some of the results were surprising given the content of the courses inthe required curriculum. Despite the fact that the required first year courses at one institutionincluded SR content (ethics and social impacts of engineering), 35% of the students indicatedthat no courses impacted their views. Common attributes of courses that were listed by studentsincluded ethics, service-learning, and international themes. The full paper will more fullyexplore the correlations between EPRA scores, curriculum/course attributes, volunteerexperiences, and engineering disciplines.

Bielefeldt, A. R., & Canney, N. E. (2014, June), Social Responsibility Attitudes of First-Year Engineering Students and the Impact of Courses Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23022

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2014 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015