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The Case Study Approach To Engineering Ethics

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Engineering Ethics: Using Case Studies

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1182.1 - 14.1182.11



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Paper Authors


William Loendorf Eastern Washington University

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William R. Loendorf is currently an Associate Professor of Engineering & Design at Eastern Washington University. He obtained his B.Sc. in Engineering Science at the University of Wisconsin - Parkside, M.S. in Electrical Engineering at Colorado State University, M.B.A. at the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management, and Ph.D. in Engineering Management at Walden University. He holds a Professional Engineer license and has 30 years of industrial experience as an Engineer or Engineering Manager at General Motors, Cadnetix, and Motorola. His interests include engineering management, real-time embedded systems, and digital signal processing.

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

Case Study Approach to Engineering Ethics


Engineers are routinely called upon to make decisions that affect the users of the products they design, develop, and manufacture. The desired outcome is to produce a product that is without defects and safe for the public to use. However, the potential impact could be very harmful if the wrong decisions are made. The technical aspects behind these decisions are studied in detail as an integral part of the engineer’s undergraduate curriculum. This training is of substantial benefit for many problems, often resulting in a straightforward solution. Nevertheless, this preparation alone may not be enough to resolve all issues. Frequently the problems encountered are in a gray area, without clear-cut answers, requiring engineers to use their best judgment for solution. These types of problems are commonly referred to as ethical challenges. Unfortunately problems of this nature are often handled with little formal training or guidance leading to improper or detrimental results. In order to better prepare our students to practice engineering with integrity and honesty a case study approach to engineering ethics has been implemented. It begins with a reflective look at the type of decisions engineers make, professional obligations, codes of ethical conduct, and contemporary issues. This is followed by class discussions of real world case studies applying this knowledge. Then two assessment methods are used to determine the students understanding of engineering ethics, an in-depth essay exploring two case studies and a written examination evaluating four case studies. During the last academic year, over 200 students from six classes have participated in this program. The results from the essays and examinations indicate that students have a fundamental foundation, from which they can build a better understanding, of how to handle real world ethical engineering challenges.


Engineers make numerous decisions every day that affect the products they design and the people that will ultimately use them. Many of these choices are of a technical nature and the engineer's academic training has primed them for their resolution. However, others are of a moral or ethical sort without an apparent answer and academic training may not have adequately prepared new engineers for their solution. Little of the undergraduate engineering experience is devoted to the potential moral, social, political, and economic issues they may encounter. Instead, they focus on the mathematics, physics, and engineering aspects of problem solving. Thus leaving a void in their preparation that should be addressed.

The organization responsible for accrediting American undergraduate Engineering and Engineering Technology programs has recognized this need. As a result the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) and Technology Accreditation Commission (TAC) of ABET, Inc.1 has mandated that undergraduate engineering curricula include the study of ethics. This is a precautionary approach requiring students to think in ethical terms at all times and not just when things go wrong. It could be viewed as defensive ethics by training students how to respond to possible events and anticipate the consequences of their actions. Many ethical lessons are unfortunately learned during an engineer's career only after some unforeseen consequence or

Loendorf, W. (2009, June), The Case Study Approach To Engineering Ethics Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5105

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