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Ethics and integrity program receives $40k from BYU Engineering alumnus

King Husein's donations funded an ethics-focused group within the BYU Engineering IMMERSE research program.

Earlier this year, King Husein, alumnus and long-time supporter of the Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering, donated $40,000 in spendable funds to support the BYU Engineering IMMERSE ethics training program. IMMERSE is a mentored undergraduate research program in the College of Engineering designed to foster real-world engineering leadership skills.

Unlike many other research programs, IMMERSE incorporates a “broader impact” component intended to help students contribute to the engineering education of others. Some of the IMMERSE students and faculty were tasked with an ethics and integrity broader impact project, in addition to their technical research. Husein’s donations specifically funded the ethics-based broader impact group and related outreach activities.

Dr. Willie Harrison, BYU Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) assistant professor, spearheaded the introduction of the new ethics focus in IMMERSE. “I think the shift came from a realization that BYU students should be the most prepared of any students anywhere to handle ethical dilemmas in their careers,” says Harrison. Looking forward, he sees this ethics emphasis continuing to expand in the program. “You have to start somewhere when you're doing something new. I think this year was successful, but we're not done yet.”

As part of IMMERSE, student researchers give a presentation to fellow students about their research. This year, each student was asked to address ethical questions involving their research during the presentation. While the program has included a presentation on ethics in the past, this is the first time IMMERSE has placed such a keen emphasis on ethics within the students’ individual research. Students also put together ethical case studies and resources for college faculty to use in classes.

Naomi Debaene, an ECE student, teamed up with Truman Welling, another ECE student, to give an ethics presentation to all of the IMMERSE participants.

Knowing that ethical considerations are often nuanced in the field of engineering, Debaene says, “The goal was to make it something people are aware of. ‘What approaches are you taking?’ ‘Are you recognizing ethical situations?’ Things like that.”

Debaene advises student researchers to make ethical considerations a common practice. “Not taking [ethics] into consideration won’t help your research, and it won’t help you personally or as a professional. It should just be part of who you are.”

Dr. Aaron Hawkins, ECE department chair, sees the addition of an ethics requirement alone as a success for the program. “Bringing an ethics focus into the IMMERSE program certainly changed how research is seen and what students think about when they give presentations,” says Hawkins. “It created a whole new set of conversations that we have about the research process.”

Students interested in getting involved in the BYU IMMERSE program can visit immerse.byu.edu for more information.

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