An interdisciplinary team of Virginia Tech faculty recently secured a five-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Cultivating Cultures of Ethical STEM program for institutional transformation.

The project is entitled, "Cultivating an ethical STEM culture through an integrated undergraduate general education," and the award started Aug. 15, 2017, and ends July 31, 2022.

The grant will be administered under the direction of Jill Sible, principal investigator and associate vice-provost for undergraduate education, and the team of co-principal investigators, Diana Bairaktarova, assistant professor for the Department of Engineering Education; Thomas Staley, associate professor of practice for the Department of Materials Science and Engineering; Sara Jordan, assistant professor in the Center for Public Administration and Policy; and Donna Riley, professor and head of the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University.

During the five years of research, the project will study the implementation and impact of a university-wide curriculum on ethical reasoning administered through the Pathways to General Education program at Virginia Tech. Specifically, it will track the effectiveness of cultivating ethical reasoning through Pathways courses that directly address global engagement and ethics in STEM fields.

The team’s central goals are to characterize and assess the multifaceted culture of ethics education that emerges and is supported by sweeping curricular change, faculty development, policy changes, and building a shared vision for ethics education. Identified best practices will be shared among other institutions worldwide. 

"Ethics dilemmas are complex and the motivation to act ethically is different for everyone,” said Bairaktarova. “Further, the growth of technology and innovations makes the oversight of technology far more complex than in the past. There is no question of the importance in the education of STEM students developing ethical decision-making abilities of our future STEM leaders and innovators."

“This project builds on years of cooperative activity in these areas across the university,” explained Staley. “There is a tremendous base of expertise and enthusiasm at Virginia Tech to pursue what the NSF program terms ‘cultivating a culture of ethical STEM’ as witnessed by the dozens of faculty who have engaged with the planning of Pathways itself and with the 2012-2015 Applied Ethics Initiative led by the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment.” 

Staley continued, “These efforts have already fostered numerous innovative pedagogical programs here – such as new Pathways minors – as well as an international network of like-minded scholars at other institutions. Our group’s December 2015 planning workshop at the VTRCC in Arlington brought together participants from around the world to consider mechanisms for collaborative learning about global STEM ethics concerns. We hope to build on these existing foundations to identify key transferable lessons of Virginia Tech’s ongoing efforts in ethics education.”

This project abstract can be viewed on the NSF website

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funded awards.

Written by Linda Hazelwood. 

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