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Impacts of Engineering Justice Curriculum: A Survey of Student Attitudes




community service, engineering education, engineering ethics, equity, ethics, humanitarian engineering, National Science Foundation, NSF, professional responsibility, service learning, social justice, social responsibility


As part of a larger project examining the role of humanitarian service learning in engineering (NSF project number EEC-1540301), we conducted an investigation of first-year engineering students' perceptions of humanitarian service learning projects, social responsibility in their discipline, and ethics in STEM. Students (n=231) taking a required freshmen level engineering course were surveyed with a pre- and post-instrument, and provided with these working definitions: * Community Service is voluntary work intended to help people in a particular community. * Social Responsibility is an obligation that an individual (or company) has to act with concern and sensitivity, aware of the impacts of their own action on others, particularly the disadvantaged. * Social Justice relates to the distribution of the advantages and disadvantages in society, including the way in which they are allocated. * Pro bono- work done without compensation (pay) for the public good. This course specifically addresses the issues described above with the goal of providing early exposure to topics that will be reinforced in non-major coursework, such as general education elective courses. Results showed that there was little change in student perceptions before and after completion of the course in terms of their perceptions of ethics, social responsibility, and social justice. In the areas in which there were statistically significant changes, students were, on average, slightly less sure the engineering profession can help people or solve social issues and slightly less interested in a job that involves helping people. On the other hand, students were slightly more aware, after the course, of the need to include social aspects in engineering practice and rated technical and professional skills as slightly less important after the class. It was also found that some groups in the class (women, minority students, first-generation students, and student less focused on salary in thinking about their future jobs) entered the class with different attitudes and changed in different ways by the end of the course. Overall, the results of this survey support other findings in engineering ethics which suggests that one course is insufficient to make significant impacts on the ways engineering students think about the societal implications of their work. However, these declines in student confidence, while small, are important to take seriously and this paper will draw out potential implications of this finding. Finally, we will discuss the implications of the differences within the class in terms of effective teaching of these topics and retention of underrepresented students.


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