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Trends In The Ethical Judgment Of Engineering Students

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Engineering Ethics II

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1299.1 - 13.1299.11



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Paper Authors


Brock Barry Purdue University

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Doctoral Candidate, School of Engineering Education

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Vincent Drnevich Purdue University

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Professor of Civil Engineering

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

Trends in the Ethical Judgment of Engineering Students


This paper presents a basic trend study conducted at a large university in the midwestern United States. The results of the study suggest a progressive decline in the understanding of a particular component of ethical judgment among the civil engineering students at the academic institution where the study was conducted. The study included twenty separate assessments administered to engineering students between 1991 and 2008.

This paper contains a detailed discussion of the assessment tool, administration procedures, and analysis of results. The component of professional ethics, as presented by the assessment tool, will be evaluated in relation to ABET EC 2000, and assessment items will be evaluated relative to the engineering codes endorsed by IEEE, ASCE, and NSPE. Finally, data trends will be evaluated relative to their implications with respect to the role of the engineering profession in society.


Engineering educators are charged with the task of equipping young engineers with the skill sets necessary to make meaningful contributions to society. The profession of engineering is similar to the medical and law professions in that the actions of an engineer have the potential to result in significant (positive or negative) impacts on society. Accordingly, society expects that engineers will execute their responsibilities in an ethical manner. The responsibility of an engineer to act ethically is given voice in the codes used by various professional and technical engineering organizations. For example, IEEE (formerly the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), and the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) each endorse codes with language that emphasizes the importance of ethics in the execution of an engineer’s professional duties 1, 2.

This paper discusses a study that developed from an in-class learning aid. A review of the results after the first several administrations prompted a tracking of performance during the 17-year period. The instrument utilized in this study is a quiz that focuses on the professional ethics concept of bribery. The literature, as well as personal experience, suggests that bribery, in various forms, is an all-too-common experience for practicing engineers 1-4.


While the importance of ethics within the engineering profession is inarguable, prior to implementation of ABET Engineering Criteria 2000 (EC 2000) many academic programs in the United States were not teaching the skills necessary for engineers to address ethical dilemmas that their students were likely to encounter in professional practice 5, 6. EC 2000 Criterion 3f states that an outcome of accredited engineering and technology programs should be graduates who can demonstrate an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility 7. Subsequent to the EC 2000 implementation, the engineering education literature has generated a large

Barry, B., & Drnevich, V. (2008, June), Trends In The Ethical Judgment Of Engineering Students Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3407

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