University Uses NSPE Code, Ethics Exam to Prepare Students

January/February 2017

On Ethics
University Uses NSPE Code, Ethics Exam to Prepare Students

When Eastern Washington University’s mechanical engineering and mechanical engineering technology programs needed to boost their ethics education focus, faculty added the NSPE Code of Ethics and ethics exam as curriculum tools. A recent study examined the effectiveness of ethics education and the use of the NSPE ethics exam as an assessment tool to improve students’ understanding of professional ethics, but the results were not conclusive.

The EWU programs required a minimum of one lesson on professional ethics in each core course and a two-credit hour course that addresses ethics, contracts, and patents. The senior capstone course included an ethics module in which students had to research how professional ethics tied into their 10-year career goals and plans. Students also completed the 25-question true-false NSPE ethics exam during their freshman and senior years.

The five-year study, conducted by professors Jason Durfee and Hani Serhal Saad, assumed that the majority of students who had taken the exam in their freshman courses also completed the exam in their senior capstone course. A review of the data showed that there was not a major increase in the ethics exam scores from the freshman to senior years.

They concluded that either the NSPE ethics exam wasn’t an effective tool to assess the students’ professional ethics knowledge or the ways in which the courses were taught may not have provided sufficient information on how ethics impacts society. Students with limited experience in a professional work environment may not be able to completely understand how ethics relates to daily work activities. In addition, senior engineering students may have had competing priorities that prevented them from sufficiently preparing for the ethics exam.

Since enrollment in the mechanical engineering program has significantly increased over the past few years, the ethics education portion of the program has been revamped. The NSPE Code of Ethics and the ethics exam will continue to have a role in introducing students to professional ethics, but the exam will not be used as an assessment tool.

A course on professional licensure has also been added to the program and features a review of topics covered on the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam.