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Fostering Ethical Innovation In Engineering Education and Design
Undergraduate engineering programs often challenge students to become innovators and leaders in their respective fields. And engineering schools themselves take pride in their ability to graduate new generations of engineering leaders and innovators. For example, the mission statement of a Research 1 university engineering school expresses a commitment “to make the world a better place. . . by preparing engineering leaders to solve global challenges.” The school goes on to elaborate a vision that includes becoming “a leader among engineering schools” by “educating engineering leaders.” In keeping with this vision, the school promises to graduate students who “are fully prepared to be the leaders of the future.” Undergirding the school’s commitment to producing engineering leaders is a “determination to innovate, create knowledge and lead in teaching and research.” When it comes to defining what engineering leadership and innovation entail, the school points to the “technical and professional knowledge” students will gain from their academic training. Although the school’s vision includes a commitment to “abid[e] by the highest standards of ethics” and to graduate students who can apply their engineering expertise with “integrity and wisdom,” its vision does not explicitly incorporate ethical perspectives into the practice of technological design and innovation. How can engineering curricula encourage students not only to become technically proficient and virtuous professionals but also to practice ethical innovation by making design choices that promote and encourage ethical practices? To address these concerns, I describe how ethical frameworks such as John Rawls’s theory of justice and care ethics were integrated into a first-year engineering course in Science Technology and Society. The study draws on class materials and student reflections to illustrate how the course challenged students to draw on both technical and ethical training to generate innovative designs that could facilitate socially responsible, just, and sustainable practices.