Teaching Ethics in a "What's in It for Me?" World

  • Patricia Rummel Jinkins (University of Wisconsin - Platteville)
  • Jill Clough (University of Wisconsin - Platteville)


Increasingly, students have trouble in determining what is and is not ethical for personal or professional behavior. However, public safety and corporate competence depend on this distinction. Even substituting substandard materials to meet deadlines or operating outside their area of expertise cause no qualms for many engineering student. Extrinsic incentive or punishment is ineffective so the change must come from intrinsic motivational factors. While some programs have the luxury of an entire semester-length required course in ethics, others must attempt to include these critical concepts within the content of an already crowded curriculum.

The author describes an approach used within the context of a technical / engineering management course to discuss some basic, representative ethical theories which provide a background for discussion. Without basic theoretical knowledge, case study fails to make an impression beyond arguing that unethical actions represent victimless crimes and supports the prevailing attitude that if no one I know is hurt, then it’s a good decision.

The authors present a summary of the ethical theories used in the class, some activities, cases and questions that are included in the course module to emphasize the concepts and to drive home the point that “professional” behavior goes beyond networking to get the next promotion.

How to Cite:

Jinkins, P. R. & Clough, J., (2014) “Teaching Ethics in a "What's in It for Me?" World”, 2014 ASEE North Midwest Section Conference 2014(1), 1-7. doi:

Rights: Copyright © 2014, Patricia Rummel Jinkins and Jill Clough

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Published on
17 Oct 2014
Peer Reviewed