NSPE Code of Ethics Helps Make ‘Exemplary’ Ethics Programs
The NSPE Code of Ethics is helping to strengthen college and university ethics education.
A recent publication from the National Academy of Engineering’s Center for Engineering Ethics and Society highlights engineering programs that are excelling at connecting ethics to technical engineering curricula, to help students prepare for professional practice. Two university programs are using the NSPE Code in their efforts.
Multiyear Engineering Ethics Case Study Approach
The goal of the Northeastern University program, which is required for all civil engineering undergraduate students, is to ensure that students are aware of ethical professional behavior and can recognize when situations may require ethical assessment. This is accomplished through a vigorous case study approach and engagement with current practicing engineers. The multiyear program provides the tools and strategies for students to develop solutions to ethical dilemmas that uphold the health, safety, and welfare of the public and environment and honor the profession.
Students review case studies, identify ethical conflicts, and determine the best responses and course of action. The cases are evaluated using the NSPE Code of Ethics and codes from other professional societies. Students realize that ethical dilemmas don’t always have “clean outcomes,” and the review process also seeks to bolster engineering technical problem-solving skills and foster creative solutions leading to better outcomes.
University of Wisconsin–Madison
Team Ethics Assignment: Based on Engineering Student Co-op Experience
The goal of the UW–Madison course assignment is to allow students to reflect on their internships and cooperative work experiences in order to learn how ethical dilemmas can occur in workplace situations and how to work through these conflicts in a team setting. The course was selected as “exemplary” because it uses students’ experiences to address real-life problems. Instructors believe that the course assignment will help students prepare for the ethical challenges that they will face while improving leadership skills.
In this assignment, students work in small groups to pick the most compelling, troubling, or complex ethical dilemma. They write up a case and give a presentation with a minimum of three options to resolve the issue. They also develop a plan to communicate their solutions to various stakeholders. Students “test” the options presented using the NSPE Code of Ethics and another ethical decision-making model, asking the following questions:
- Utilitarian test: Does this option do the greatest good for the greatest number of people?
- Publicity test: Would I want my choice of this option published in the newspaper?
- Reversibility test: Would I still think the choice of this option is good if I or someone I loved were one of those adversely affected by it?
- Universality test: If everyone confronted with this kind of problem were to make this kind of decision, would that produce the sort of world we would all want to live in?
- Rights ethics test: Does this option trample on anyone’s rights? If so, is there anything that can be done to mitigate the incursion on individual rights?
- Consequentialist test: Would there be potential long-term negative impacts of this option?
- Professional test: What might my profession’s ethics committee say about this option, particularly if they were to consult the code of ethics in my profession?
Access the publication Infusing Ethics into the Development of Engineers at www.nae.edu.