Whether from emergent social media and communication technologies to environmental and energy crises, young engineers must be equipped to navigate the complex moral and ethical challenges of contemporary research and applications. The Certificate in Engineering, Ethics and Society (EES) is designed to provide students at the College of Engineering and Applied Science with the tools necessary to meet these challenges as they begin their careers.
Courses taken as part of the EES encourage the students to consider engineering issues in cultural, economic, environmental and legal contexts. Because the news is often a cascade of issues exacerbated by technological developments, such a program is more valuable than ever.
“While my computer science courses taught me how to develop a product, my Herbst classes taught me to think critically about why I am innovating, whom I am impacting and what the ramifications of introducing new technology might be,” said Zahraa Abbasi, an engineering senior and current EES certificate student. “This mindset has been essential to my engineering education because it enables me to comfortably start conversations on the ethical, societal and technical consequences of the skills I learn.”
The program continues to inform the thinking of its students, even after they graduate.
“As engineers, our work is completely inseparable from intellectual tradition, the structure and history of society and the human condition,” said Rhys B.P. Olsen (CompSci’17). “As the world grows ever more integrated, the humanities have never been more important for people pursuing a rigorous technical education, and the Herbst Program for Engineering, Ethics and Society furnished me with a vital lens with which to draw those connections into better focus for the rest of my life.”
Olsen cites his coursework on the relationship between evolution, moral philosophy and ancient Greek tradition as influential in his ability to think and communicate about his engineering work with the understanding of how our present is shaped by the past.
In addition to intensive coursework, the Herbst Program also provides an ongoing speaker series, inviting internationally recognized researchers to share their work and perspectives with students, faculty and guests of the program. The most recent speaker, Professor Lewis Dartnell of the University of Westminster, gave a talk on how rebuilding society might work, and how engineers can benefit from learning how society functions on a more fundamental level.
Whether attending talks or participating in engaging, challenging course discussions, students can improve their understanding of critical issues and develop their competency as engineers.
“The discussions I've been a part of in the Herbst program have helped me identify shortcomings in the way I think about human behavior and technology and have given me skills to cultivate a more informed and holistic viewpoint,” Abbasi said.