Workshop helps engineering faculty develop ethics training for graduate students

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A new workshop, organized by the Leonhard Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Education and the Rock Ethics Institute, aims to provide faculty in Penn State's College of Engineering with the tools and resources they need to implement discussion-based ethics activities in their Scholarship and Research Integrity (SARI) program training.

The two-day workshop, held May 16 and 17, covered topics such as ethical issues in engineering research and data generation, management and use; ethical frameworks for use in discussion-based instruction of SARI; and teaching and learning resources for ethical data management.

Workshop facilitators included Tom Litzinger, assistant dean for educational innovation and accreditation in the College of Engineering and director of the Leonhard Center; Eduardo Mendieta, associate director of the Rock Ethics Institute and professor of philosophy; and Xiaofeng "Denver" Tang, post-doctoral fellow in engineering ethics at the Rock Ethics Institute.

Litzinger stressed the increasing importance of integrating ethics into engineering research.

"Although the initial drivers for SARI training were requirements associated with projects funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, Penn State decided to institute the requirement for all graduate students because it is critical for all students to understand responsible conduct of research," he explained.

In addition, Penn State now requires various levels of SARI training for all researchers and scholars at the University, including at the undergraduate level. The SARI program was established in 2009 in order to offer comprehensive, multilevel training in responsible conduct of research, in a way that is tailored to address the issues typically faced by individual disciplines.

Faculty workshop participants also weighed in on the value of teaching ethics.

Mike Micci, professor of aerospace engineering, said it's important because engineering graduate students, who come from all over the world to Penn State, don't always receive ethics training as undergraduates.

"Ethical norms promote the aims of research and prohibit against fabricating research data. This is becoming increasingly critical for researchers in the biomedical engineering and life science research area," added Xiaojun Lance Lian, assistant professor of biomedical engineering.

Mary Frecker, professor of mechanical engineering and biomedical engineering, explained that it's important for graduate students to understand what it means to conduct research responsibly.

"Having an understanding of engineering ethics helps students consider possible actions and consequences in their research work," she said.

One of Litzinger's goals for the workshop is for faculty to think beyond SARI and incorporate ethics training into their graduate courses and into discussions within their research groups.

He also hopes that more faculty members take advantage of this learning opportunity.

"Twelve faculty members representing eight of the college's 11 departments attended the inaugural workshop. It was a great turnout and we hope to see even more of them at next workshop in summer 2017," said Litzinger.

In February, the Leonhard Center and the Rock Ethics Institute were recognized by the National Academy of Engineering's Center for Engineering Ethics and Society as an Exemplar in Engineering Ethics Education for their collaborative and pioneering efforts to create a community of ethics educators in Penn State's College of Engineering.

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Last Updated May 20, 2016