08 August 2016
Miller, G. and Brumbelow, K. (2017). “Attitudes of Incoming Civil Engineering Students toward Sustainability as an Engineering Ethic.” J. Prof. Issues Eng. Educ. Pract., 10.1061/(ASCE)EI.1943-5541.0000306 , D4016002.
This study presents the results of a survey of new civil engineering students at a large, conservative, land-grant university. Students were asked a set of questions about engineering ethics and professional issues; these were designed to determine their opinions on the relative importance of sustainability in the professional practice of engineering. Of 192 students approached, 130 (67%) completed the survey, with participant demographics resembling that of the department as a whole. Students viewed sustainability favorably, with nearly all agreeing (43%) or strongly agreeing (55%) with the statement “engineers should strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their duties.” When asked to rank a set of societal priorities, students valued people-centric objectives (e.g., quality of human life) most highly followed by planet-centric objectives (e.g., quality of the environment). Prosperity-centric objectives (e.g., economic growth) were rated the lowest. Students from ethnic minorities ranked the objectives in ways significantly different (p<0.05) from the overall group, as did students intending to specialize in the subdisciplines of environmental engineering, water resources engineering, and geotechnical engineering. Gender appeared to have no effect on student views of sustainability or societal priorities. These findings have positive implications for the receptiveness and responsiveness of civil engineering students to sustainability education, particularly where affective, or behavioral-based, learning outcomes are desired.