Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Civil, Environmental & Architectural Engineering

First Advisor

Angela R. Bielefeldt

Second Advisor

Amy Javernick-Will

Abstract

Engineers impact the lives of every person every day, and need to have a strong sense of social responsibility. Understanding what students think about social responsibility in engineering and their futures is very important. Further, by identifying influences that change these ideas and shape their conceptualizations, we can intervene to help prepare students for their responsibilities as part of the profession in the future.

This thesis presents the experiences, in their own words, of 34 students who started in engineering. The study is composed of three parts: (i) engineering students’ ideas about socially responsible engineering and what influenced these ideas, (ii) how students see themselves as future socially responsible engineers and how this idea changes over their first three years of college, and (iii) what social responsibility-related reasons students who leave engineering have for choosing a new major.

Results show that students are complicated and have varied paths through and out of engineering studies. Students came up with their own ideas about socially responsible engineering that converged over the years on legal and safety related aspects of the profession. Relatedly, students identified with the engineering profession through internships and engineering courses, and rarely described socially responsible aspirations that could be accomplished with engineering. More often, those students who desired to help the disadvantaged through their engineering work left engineering. Their choice to leave was a combination of an unsupportive climate, disinterest in their classes, and a desire to combine their personal and professional social responsibility ambitions.

If we want engineering students to push the engineering profession forward to be more socially responsible, we can identify the effective influences and develop a curriculum that encourages critical thinking about the social context and impacts of engineering. Additionally, a social responsibility-related curriculum could provide more opportunities for engagement that keeps those socially-motivated students in engineering. The engineering profession must also reflect these values to keep the new engineers working towards social responsibility and pushing the profession forward.

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