Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Engineering education may diminish concern for public welfare issues

Date:
November 20, 2013
Source:
Rice University
Summary:
Collegiate engineering education may foster a "culture of disengagement" regarding issues of public welfare, according to new research.

Collegiate engineering education may foster a "culture of disengagement" regarding issues of public welfare, according to new research by a sociologist at Rice University.

For the first-of-its-kind study, the researcher used survey data from four U.S. colleges to examine how students' public-welfare beliefs change during their college engineering education and whether the curricular emphases of their engineering programs are related to students' beliefs about public welfare. The study found that engineering students leave college less concerned about public welfare than when they entered.

Study author Erin Cech, an assistant professor of sociology who has B.S. degrees in both electrical engineering and sociology, said that many people inside and outside engineering have emphasized the importance of training ethical, socially conscious engineers, but she wonders if engineering education in the U.S. actually encourages young engineers to take seriously their professional responsibility to public welfare.

"There's an overarching assumption that professional engineering education results in individuals who have a deeper understanding of the public welfare concerns of their profession," Cech said. "My study found that this is not necessarily the case for the engineering students in my sample."

Cech said that as part of their education, engineering students learn the profession's code of ethics, which includes taking seriously the safety, health and welfare of the public. However, she said, it appears that there is something about engineering education that results in students becoming more cynical and less concerned with public policy and social engagement issues.

"The way many people think about the engineering profession as separate from social, political and emotional realms is not an accurate assessment," Cech said. "People have emotional and social reactions to engineered products all the time, and those products shape people's lives in deep ways; so it stands to reason that it is important for engineers to be conscious of broader ethical and social issues related to technology."

Cech said that this "culture of disengagement" is rooted in how engineering education frames engineering problem-solving.

"Issues that are nontechnical in nature are often perceived as irrelevant to the problem-solving process," Cech said. "There seems to be very little time or space in engineering curricula for nontechnical conversations about how particular designs may reproduce inequality -- for example, debating whether to make a computer faster, more technologically savvy and expensive versus making it less sophisticated and more accessible for customers."

Cech said ignoring these issues does a disservice to students because practicing engineers are required to address social welfare concerns on a regular basis, even if it involves a conflict of interest or whistleblowing.

"If students are not prepared to think through these issues of public welfare, then we might say they are not fully prepared to enter the engineering practice," Cech said.

Cech became interested in this research topic as an undergraduate electrical engineering student.

"Because I went through engineering education myself, I care deeply about this topic," she said. "I want to advance the conversation about how engineering education can be the best it can possibly be."

The study included more than 300 students who entered engineering programs as freshmen in 2003 at four U.S. universities in the Northeast. Rice students were not included in the study. Participants were surveyed in the spring of each year and at 18 months after graduation. In the surveys, students were asked to rate the importance of professional and ethical responsibilities and their individual views on the importance of improving society, being active in their community, promoting racial understanding and helping others in need. In addition, the students were asked how important the following factors are to their engineering programs: ethical and/or social issues, policy implications of engineering, and broad education in humanities and social sciences.

"Culture of Disengagement in Engineering Education?" will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Science, Technology and Human Values. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Rice University. The original article was written by Amy Hodges. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Rice University. "Engineering education may diminish concern for public welfare issues." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 November 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131120133933.htm>.
Rice University. (2013, November 20). Engineering education may diminish concern for public welfare issues. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131120133933.htm
Rice University. "Engineering education may diminish concern for public welfare issues." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/11/131120133933.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Science & Society News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

CDC Revamps Ebola Guidelines After Criticism

CDC Revamps Ebola Guidelines After Criticism

Newsy (Oct. 21, 2014) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued new protocols for healthcare workers interacting with Ebola patients. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Robots to Fly Planes Where Humans Can't

Robots to Fly Planes Where Humans Can't

Reuters - Innovations Video Online (Oct. 21, 2014) Researchers in South Korea are developing a robotic pilot that could potentially replace humans in the cockpit. Unlike drones and autopilot programs which are configured for specific aircraft, the robots' humanoid design will allow it to fly any type of plane with no additional sensors. Ben Gruber reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
WHO: Ebola Vaccine Trials to Start a in January

WHO: Ebola Vaccine Trials to Start a in January

AP (Oct. 21, 2014) Tens of thousands of doses of experimental Ebola vaccines could be available for "real-world" testing in West Africa as soon as January as long as they are deemed safe in soon to start trials, the World Health Organization said Tuesday. (Oct. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Portable Breathalyzer Gets You Home Safely

Buzz60 (Oct. 21, 2014) Breeze, a portable breathalyzer, gets you home safely by instantly showing your blood alcohol content, and with one tap, lets you call an Uber, a cab or a friend from your contact list to pick you up. Sean Dowling (@SeanDowlingTV) has the details. Video provided by Buzz60
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Science & Society

Business & Industry

Education & Learning

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins