Using Student Engagement to Relocate Ethics to the Core of the Engineering Curriculum

  • Mary E. SunderlandEmail author
Original Paper


One of the core problems with engineering ethics education is perceptual. Although ethics is meant to be a central component of today’s engineering curriculum, it is often perceived as a marginal requirement that must be fulfilled. In addition, there is a mismatch between faculty and student perceptions of ethics. While faculty aim to communicate the nuances and complexity of engineering ethics, students perceive ethics as laws, rules, and codes that must be memorized. This paper provides some historical context to better understand these perceptual differences, and suggests that curriculum constraints are important contributing factors. Drawing on the growing scholarship of student engagement approaches to pedagogy, the paper explores how students can be empowered to effect change in the broader engineering curriculum through engineering ethics. The paper describes a student engagement approach to pedagogy that includes students as active participants in curriculum design—a role that enables them to critically reflect about why ethics is a requirement. Including students in the process of curriculum design leads students to reframe ethics as an integrative tool with the capacity to bring together different engineering departments and build bridges to non-engineering fields. This paper argues that students can and should play an active and important role in relocating ethics from the periphery to the core of the engineering curriculum.


Education History Pedagogy Student engagement 



I am grateful to all of the engineering students who candidly shared their ideas, especially to Chris Merian, Rohit Upadhya, Brigette Badro, and Ricky Nolan, who originally proposed the DeCal idea, and to Alexandra Giesemann and Andrew Serpa who made the engineering ethics DeCal a reality. I am thankful to Ronald Gronsky, Mark Asta, and Wanda Capece from Berkeley’s Department of Materials Science & Engineering for supporting the DeCal. Thanks also to Mary Howell from Engineering Student Services for introducing me to Berkeley’s collection of course announcements and for helping me to navigate the engineering undergraduate curriculum. I appreciate the insightful and encouraging feedback that I received from three anonymous reviewers. This material is based upon work supported by a seed grant from the University of California, Berkeley College of Engineering and the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Grant No. 1237830. Thanks to my NSF grant collaborators: Cathryn Carson, William Kastenberg, and Joonhong Ahn.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society, Office for History of Science and TechnologyUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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