For Engineering Students, a Lesson in Caring?
“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, 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.
Results showed that the students left college less concerned about public welfare than when they entered.
‘The way many people think about the engineering profession as separate from social, political, and emotional realms is not an accurate assessment,’ Cech says. ‘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.’
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 says. ‘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.’
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, Cech says. ‘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.'”