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Texas Tech T-STEM Center National Institute for Engineering Ethics

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1 Texas Tech T-STEM Center National Institute for Engineering Ethics
Richard A. Burgess, M.A. Texas Tech T-STEM Center and Deputy Director, National Institute for Engineering Ethics Summer 2012

2 STEM includes Engineering
No single profession impacts modern life as thoroughly as engineering does. (examples: cars, buildings, electronic devices, water) Despite the ubiquity of engineering, it is not uncommon for people to know very little about engineering.

3 Engineering: Design Under Constraint
Engineering as “design under constraint” Lessons Amid the Rubble: An Introduction to Post-Disaster Engineering and Ethics by Sara Pfatteicher

4 Constraint In a perfect world, engineers would be able to design and deploy products that are maximally safe, efficient, and effective. This would be prohibitively expensive and time intensive. Engineers must often balance quality considerations with time and financial constraints. This requires thoughtfulness and ethical fortitude.

5 Tension Engineering is marked by a tension between competing interests: Corporate/commercial Personal (e.g. salary, promotion, etc.) Public These interests do not always align. Tension between the costs and benefits of technology. All technology, even the most beneficial, has a cost.

6 Engineering Ethics Given the aforementioned characteristics, it is clear that ethics is an important part of engineering. Engineering ethics can also be complex. “Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.” (National Society of Professional Engineers, Code of Ethics) Who is the “public”? How do we define “welfare”?

7 The Role of Ethics in Engineering
Ethics is integral to the practice of engineering. Engineers imprint their values on virtually everything they do. Even something as simple as specifying the height of a bridge can have ethical ramifications (See Sara Pfatteicher’s book)

8 Sources of Guidance Engineering is considered a profession and has a code of ethics; several in fact. Examples: American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) Obligations – the codes discuss the obligations engineers have to the public, to their clients, and to their fellow engineers. Aspirations – some codes also emphasize opportunities for self and community development.

9 Foundational Principles
Arguably, three general ideas underwrite the codes of ethics. Principle of Utility: The right thing to do is to promote the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Principle of Respect: People should be treated as ends-in-themselves and not as mere means to an end. Virtue Ethics: Right and wrong is not only about performing a certain action, but about being the right kind of person. We should cultivate virtues such as honesty, compassion, courage, and temperance.

10 Incorporating Ethics into STEM
It can be helpful to refer to these codes of ethics and approaches when discussing ethics in PBL contexts. In addition to providing guidance, the codes and principles can help identify issues to begin with. In other words, these codes/principles can improve not only reasoning, but sensitivity as well.


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