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There's a debate in engineering programs about whether stand-alone ethics courses are effective or if it's "another subject to be checked off the required course list," according to Braden Allenby, professor of engineering and ethics at Arizona State University's Fulton School of Engineering, which is ABET accredited.
"Once the student realizes that an ethical failure is an engineering failure, you've achieved an important level of ethical understanding," says Allenby, who infuses the study of ethics throughout his courses.
At Cornell University's College of Engineering, alumni are supporting the university's interest in teaching ethics, which has "grown substantially" in the past decade, says Ron Kline, a professor of the history and ethics of professional engineering.
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There is also a "full-blown" program at Duke University in "responsible conduct of research" for graduate students, says Daniel Vallero, an adjunct professor of engineering ethics at the Pratt School of Engineering. Like Cornell, Duke is ABET accredited.
"The good news is that ethics can be taught. Our research has shown that we can enhance students' awareness and improve ethical decisions," Vallero says. "The bad news is that we were not able to gauge how this would carry through to behavior. Indeed, we probably won't know that until these future researchers are in the field for a decade or so."
Bush, the Mines graduate, has specific advice for grad engineering applicants:
"I'd suggest trying to pick an adviser that shares your views on the subject [of ethics], at a school that has a research program that is in line with your principles," he says. "Research is a labor of love, so you have to be passionate about what you do, and a big part of that is what motivates you."
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