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Recognizing the critical roles played by technical professionals in serving the public and addressing grand challenges, many formal courses and programs have been created to promote professional responsibility and ethical integrity among engineering graduates. Other interventions (e.g., service learning programs) have been developed to more broadly challenge engineering and technology students to see themselves as engaged citizens and community members. Yet there has been a lack of research on foundational understandings of social and ethical responsibility among such students, including how these understandings change over time and through participation in specific types of learning experiences. Additional empirical evidence is needed to guide ongoing efforts to cultivate enhanced social and ethical responsibility among future engineers, including by identifying and promoting specific interventions that have the biggest positive impacts on students. The proposed study responds to these gaps in the existing scholarship by asking the following research questions: 1) What do engineering students perceive as responsible (and irresponsible) professional conduct, and what do they perceive as socially just (and unjust) technical practices?, and 2) how do foundational measures and understandings of social and ethical responsibility change during a four-year engineering degree program, both in general and in relation to specific kinds of learning experiences? To investigate these questions, a longitudinal mixed-method study design will collect and analyze quantitative and qualitative data from undergraduate engineering students at four universities. To improve transferability of results, these schools will represent a variety of institution types. Each collaborating school also has large numbers of students in programs of interest, e.g., service-learning and intensified ethics instruction. Further, the study will give priority to investigating differences in perceptions and experiences among underrepresented student populations.


National Science Foundation, Division of Social and Economic Sciences


May 2015 — April 2020