Ethics and the Development of Professional Identities of Engineering Students

By Loui, Michael C. | Journal of Engineering Education, October 2005 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Ethics and the Development of Professional Identities of Engineering Students


Loui, Michael C., Journal of Engineering Education


ABSTRACT

How do undergraduate students in engineering conceive of themselves as professionals? How can a course on engineering ethics affect the development of an undergraduate student's professional identity? In this project, students responded to questions about the characteristics and responsibilities of professional engineers. The results indicate that students learn about professionalism primarily from relatives and co-workers who are engineers, and rarely from technical engineering courses. Even before they study engineering ethics, students put honesty and integrity on par with technical competence as an essential characteristic of engineers. In the course, students benefit from cases of actual incidents and from classroom activities that encourage diverse perspectives on moral problems. By analyzing cases in groups and by hearing different perspectives, students build self-confidence in moral reasoning. By the end of the course, some students understand professional responsibility not only as liability for blame but in a capacious sense as stewardship for society.

Keywords: engineering ethics, professional identity

I. INTRODUCTION

Since the late nineteenth century, academic programs have replaced apprenticeships in educating professionals, including engineers [I]. Consequently, academic programs now bear the primary responsibility for preparing students to become engineers. If we think of engineering education as socializing students to become professional engineers, then we can apply the standard four-stage model of role acquisition [2]. In the anticipatory stage, the student learns about the profession through contact with engineering practitioners and through the mass media. In the formal stage, the student learns the formal expectations of engineers, such as design processes, technical standards, and licensure requirements. In the informal stage, the student learns about unofficial expectations and everyday practices. Finally, in the personal stage, the student reconciles the social expectations for engineers with his or her personal identity. Perhaps only a few undergraduate students reach the final stage, at which being an engineer is integral to the student's identity. Nevertheless, during their undergraduate years, engineering students begin to develop their identities as professionals.

Studying the development of professional identities of law students, Floyd [3] determined that the overemphasis on analyzing legal opinions is "boring" for students. In law school, the valorization of analytical skills may discourage students from improving interpersonal skills, which are essential for professional practice. Similarly, in engineering education, Florman [4] called the overemphasis on solving technical problems "laborious and disagreeable." In engineering school, the inculcation of disciplined habits may socialize students in undesirable ways [5].

In the early 1960s, Perry [6] studied the intellectual and moral development of college students. His research subjects were undergraduate men and women enrolled at Harvard and Radcliffe. Since then, Perry's model has been tested with other populations of college students. Psychologists and philosophers have studied the development of moral identity [7-10]. But there has been little empirical work on whether and how instruction in ethics affects an undergraduate student's moral development, beyond improvements in moral reasoning skill [11,12].

In this project, I focused on the effect of instruction in engineering ethics on the development of an undergraduate engineering student's professional identity. I addressed the following questions.

* During their studies, how do undergraduates in engineering develop their self identities as nascent professionals, particularly their understandings of engineers' ethical obligations?

* How can instruction in engineering ethics affect the development of a student's professional identity?

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Ethics and the Development of Professional Identities of Engineering Students
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?