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Work in Progress: A One-page Ethical Checklist for Engineers

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2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual On line

Publication Date

June 22, 2020

Start Date

June 22, 2020

End Date

June 26, 2021

Conference Session

Innovating Ethics Curriculum and Instruction

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

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Paper Authors


Elizabeth A. Debartolo Rochester Institute of Technology

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Elizabeth A. DeBartolo, PhD is the Director of the Multidisciplinary Senior Design Program at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where students from Biomedical, Computer, Electrical, Industrial, and Mechanical Engineering work together on multidisciplinary teams to complete their 2-semester design and build capstone projects. She received her graduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University and has worked at RIT since 2000.

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Wade L. Robison Rochester Institute of Technology

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Wade L. Robison is the Ezra A. Hale Professor of Applied Ethics at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a minor in law. He was President of the Hume Society for sixteen years and was the first President and co-founder of the Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum. He has published extensively in philosophy of law, David Hume, and practical and professional ethics. His book Decisions in Doubt: The Environment and Public Policy (University Press of New England, 1994) won the Nelson A. Rockefeller Prize in Social Science and Public Policy. His latest book is Ethics Within Engineering: An Introduction (Bloomsbury Academic Publishing, 2016).

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Sarah Aileen Brownell Rochester Institute of Technology

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Sarah Brownell is the Director of the Grand Challenges Scholars Program and a Lecturer in Design, Development and Manufacturing for the Kate Gleason College of Engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She works extensively with students in the multidisciplinary engineering capstone design course and other project based elective courses, incorporating human centered design, participatory development, and design for development themes. She was a co-founder of the non-profit Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) which promotes ecological sanitation in Haiti.

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Engineers cannot help but make ethical decisions in solving design problems. Once a choice is made and the design solution is realized in an artifact that is put into the causal stream of the world, it is going to have effects, upstream and downstream, some good, and some harmful. Think here of a cell phone with a battery so tightly packed that it would burst into flame. Such a design solution is harmful enough that such a cell phone was banned from being taken on airplanes. Just as it would be unethical for a passenger to sneak one on a plane, it was unethical to choose a design that, when realized in an artifact, would destroy itself and put at risk everything around it. So design solutions are ethical decisions. We propose creating a procedure that students — and practicing engineers — could use to assess whether their design solutions are in fact ethical. The aim is to see, first, if we can design a procedure that will enable us to more easily evaluate our students’ ability to “produce solutions that meet specified needs with consideration of public health, safety, and welfare…” and “to recognize ethical and professional responsibilities in engineering situations and make informed judgments” and, second, whether those two criteria capture all the ethical considerations relevant to engineering practice. We have introduced this ethical checklist in two courses: the college-wide Multidisciplinary Senior Design course, and a third-year Mechanical Engineering course focused on contemporary issues in different application areas of engineering. This Work-In-Progress will present initial feedback from students who have used the checklist, as well as an assessment of how well Senior Design students have captured ethical issues in their projects using the checklist, as compared with the same assessment from prior years with no checklist

Debartolo, E. A., & Robison, W. L., & Brownell, S. A. (2020, June), Work in Progress: A One-page Ethical Checklist for Engineers Paper presented at 2020 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual On line . 10.18260/1-2--35598

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