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Dordt team takes first place in ethics competition

December 16, 2011

“While ethics is often a subject that is tacked onto engineering curriculum, as a Christian engineer I believe that designing ethically is one of an engineer’s most important responsibilities,” said Dordt College senior Josh Pearson after he and fellow Dordt College senior Nathan Gross were awarded first place in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Region 4 ethics competition. Both students are engineering majors.

“The competition presents a realistic case study to the students and is similar to gaining experience on-the-job,” said Dordt College engineering professor Douglas De Boer.

The case study revolved around the recommended handling procedures for a military bomb. An engineer had discovered a potential danger in transporting the bomb and reported the danger, but ultimately the bomb was put in production with no special warning. While being moved for storage it exploded, killing several servicemen.

Teams were given two hours to analyze the case study for ethical issues in light of the IEEE Code of Ethics and then create a PowerPoint presentation of their findings.

There were two statues of the IEEE code that the team highlighted as pertinent to the case study. Specifically these two rules: 1) To accept responsibility in making decisions consistent with the safety, health, and welfare of the public, and to disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment, and 2) To seek, accept, and offer honest criticism of technical work, to acknowledge and correct errors, and to credit properly the contributions of others.

Reaching a conclusion and developing a presentation within the two-hour time limit was one of the biggest challenges that Gross and Pearson faced. “Another challenge was to develop our stance based around the IEEE Code of Ethics and to consider all affected parties besides the most obvious ones,” said Pearson.

Gross noted the unique nature of working with a strictly secular set of ethics. “It was interesting to work with a ‘secular’ code of ethics put out by a technical organization. I couldn’t help but think of how this particular code of ethics was lacking in many ways. For example, it doesn’t provide an impetus for obedience like the law of God does.”

This is the first year that Dordt College entered the competition, and the first place finish earned the students a $400 donation to the college’s branch of the IEEE. There were five teams competing.

“I certainly believe that Josh and I had an advantage over our competitors due to our engineering experience at Dordt,” said Gross. “We have been instructed to always see our engineering endeavors holistically and in light of the moral laws of God. I would guess that we get much more of the ‘philosophy of engineering’ than do our peers at state-run institutions.”

In 10 of 12 years, Dordt engineering students have achieved a remarkable 100 percent pass rate on the nationally administered Fundamentals of Engineering exam for an overall pass rate of 97 percent. This exceeds the pass rate at most of the elite engineering programs across the United States.

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