Ethics and Sustainability in Global Contexts: Studying Engineering Student Perspectives Through Photoelicitation

Catherine G.P. Berdanier, Xiaofeng Tang, Monica F. Cox

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (SciVal)


Background: Ethical issues have become increasingly important in discussions of sustainability, an area involving ethical and sociotechnical decisions that engineers may not be prepared to consider. Recent literature on engineering ethics highlights the need to integrate social and environmental aspects of ethics into technical topics through culturally sensitive and community-oriented approaches. Purpose/Hypothesis: This paper explores the ethical reflections of U.S. doctoral engineering students after a two-week experience studying electronics manufacturing in India. This authentic experience is essentially a lived case study, where the students' roles were to listen and engage with a broad range of stakeholders affiliated with the electronics industry. Design/Method: This study used photoelicitation methods to elicit deep reflective interviews with the doctoral student participants, reporting the qualitative analysis of these interview transcripts. Results: The concept of sustainability is typically seen as comprising the individual dimensions of economic, social, and environmental facets; however, the narratives of ethics and sustainability emerging from the interview data reported here point to the importance of the intersections among these aspects. Themes relating to safety and regulations, gender roles, and resources and waste emerged as manifestations of these intersections. Conclusions: The graduate students demonstrated ethical reasoning skills related to regulations, gender roles, resources and waste, and their professional ethical responsibilities as they discussed the experiences of their trip. As students reflected on ethical tensions based on their experience, they demonstrated a deep commitment to engineering ethics, acknowledging their roles in fostering sustainability and committing to thinking about the distant stakeholders affected by engineering decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)238-262
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Engineering Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • General Engineering


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