Florida Polytechnic University wins NSF grant to develop ethical identity in future STEM professionals

Sep 18, 2019
Florida Polytechnic University wins NSF grant to develop ethical identity in future STEM professionals
Dr. Grisselle Centeno, Florida Polytechnic University professor, is the principal investigator of a new National Science Foundation (NSF) grant focused on the ethical identity of engineering students.

LAKELAND, Fla. – Researchers at Florida Polytechnic University will work to support and strengthen the ethical identity of engineering students and future STEM professionals thanks to a new federal grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The one-of-a-kind research will analyze the motives and barriers to ethical behavior in an academic setting, and the resulting ethical attitudes and actions exhibited by students. It also examines the extent to which these ethical attitudes continue once students enter the engineering workforce.

“As we try at Florida Poly to differentiate our product, and our product is the students, we want them to be the absolute best in terms of their technical training,” said Dr. Grisselle Centeno, principal investigator of the research. “However, it would all be worthless if they engage and practice in an unethical manner.”

The $600,000 grant – the largest NSF grant Florida Poly has received thus far – will fund a four-year program focused on students throughout their mandatory internships. About 60 engineering students will participate each year in multiple aspects of the research, including ethical trainings, case studies, surveys, and open discussions on different ethical scenarios. The data will be used to measure the impact these factors have on the students’ ethical actions and reactions. The goal is to develop a methodology that institutions across the nation can adopt to promote the establishment of ethical competence as a core skill associated with the engineer identity.

“Engineering is not an easy career. There is a lot of pressure and that’s unfortunately when unethical behaviors may happen,” said Centeno, a professor in the Department of Data Science and Business Analytics. “We want to train our students so they have the sensitivity to recognize what’s ethical and what’s non-ethical, and equip them to act ethically.”

The research is a collaborative effort between Florida Poly, as the lead institution and the University of South Florida (USF). Centeno has been working with Dr. Kingsley Reeves and Dr. Michelle Hughes Miller, both from USF. Also collaborating are nationally recognized experts in engineering ethics Dr. Elaine E. Englehardt from Utah Valley University, and Dr. Michael S. Pritchard from Western Michigan University.

“Academic institutions must teach our students the critical importance of behaving ethically both inside the classroom and as engineering practitioners,” Centeno said.

“We want to make sure that the backbone of ethics is well instilled in the student’s development so that they can be successful and have an impact as engineers and STEM professionals.”

Lydia Guzman
Director of Communications