Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Angela Bielefeldt

Second Advisor

Margaret Eisenhart

Third Advisor

Amy Javernick-Will

Fourth Advisor

Abbie Liel

Fifth Advisor

William Penuel


Many groups within the engineering community have recognized the need for more diversity in the engineering profession and for more holistic engineers to develop responsible, equitable, and sustainable technology for the future. New educational approaches, such as Service-Learning, are being used to teach technical skills as well as professional skills including ethics and an understanding of the social context of engineering solutions. There is a need, however, for frameworks and instruments to assess the effectiveness of these programs and others towards developing these skills. This study uses the lens of social responsibility to view the development of underlying dispositions, foundational to many of the professional skills that are needed for a more holistic profession.

This thesis presents a new framework describing the development of social responsibility in engineering students. The iterative process between theory development and data is discussed, leading to a finalized model from which future instruments and studies can be designed. Next, the development of an instrument to assess beliefs of social responsibility, the Engineering Professional Responsibility Assessment (EPRA) tool, is presented, which was developed iteratively with both quantitative and qualitative data. Evidence of both reliability and validity are presented.

Finally, results from a multi-institutional administration of the EPRA tool are analyzed for differences in beliefs of social responsibility between genders, academic ranks, and engineering disciplines (specifically Civil, Environmental, and Mechanical). Results showed that women had higher degrees of social responsibility than men, correlating with higher degrees of participation in volunteer activities. First-year students also tended to have higher degrees of social responsibility than senior and graduate students; predominately for female students. Finally, Environmental Engineering students had higher degrees of social responsibility than Civil Engineering students, who were higher than Mechanical Engineering students. Students in Environmental Engineering, over Civil or Mechanical, most often cited a desire to have a positive impact on society and to help others as motivation for their choice of major. These results form a foundation from which future studies regarding the development and effects of social responsibility in engineers can be conducted.