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Student-organized Conference Helps Fill Gap in Safety & Ethics Training

While some universities lack in providing extensive safety trainings for students, BYU students successfully hosted their second annual safety and ethics conference.

In his lecture, Hart discussed the ethical dilemmas at the core of developing autonomous vehicles. Hart encouraged students to observe other industries that were examples of safe and successful automation.
Photo by Heber Stanton

An hour before the event began, people trickled into the Hinckley Center Assembly Hall—the largest room in the building. Breakfast would have its official start in half an hour, but regardless, students and company representatives had shown up early. The excitement could not wait. On Saturday, January 21, the BYU American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) chapter commenced the 2nd Annual BYU Engineering Safety & Ethics Conference.

Chemical engineering senior Alexa Lowman created the conference so that BYU students could have a unique advantage in the career force: training in safety. Universities across the nation had failed to address safety and ethics as a priority in their education, she observed. When Lowman discovered that these basics burdened employers, she decided that while other schools might not discuss in-depth safety conduct, BYU would.

The response from students, faculty, and professionals surpassed expectations during the first conference, and the excitement only increased for this year's activities. Students filled the engineering buildings, participating in an "amazing race" kick-off for the event on Friday night. In multiple locations, they learned different safety instructions for various disciplines.

Saturday morning brought more roaming feet. The previous year, around two hundred and fifty students showed up to the conference, along with thirteen companies in attendance. This year, the conference has seen a steady growth, with over two hundred and eighty students participating, and fifteen companies contributing.

"I've attended a lot of conferences that are put on by professionals whose full-time job it is to create conference experiences," said Department Chair and Professor of Chemical Engineering Dr. Dean Wheeler, "and none of them are better or more valuable than this BYU Safety and Ethics Conference, completely organized by students who are doing it all in between their classes!"

Students chatted while they waited for distinguished speaker Christopher A. Hart to assume the stage. Hart knew well how important instructing on safety was, as his diverse career experience centered on safety. With a B.S. and M.S. in aeronautical engineering from Princeton and a J.D. from Harvard Law, Hart lead in safety initiatives across the country. In one of his most significant positions, Hart served under President Barack Obama as the chairman of the National Safety Transportation Board.

Connor Moran, junior in chemical engineering and AIChE chapter member, had helped to plan the original event. This time, enthused to experience the event as a participant, Moran sat in the front of the hall waiting for Hart's lecture on autonomous vehicles.

Over the course of the day, the improvements in the activities impressed Moran, and the options overflowed. After the lecture, students could participate in cross-industry panels; attend case competitions between students; fuel up at a networking lunch; and choose between 12 different presentations given over 2 sessions.

On Friday, the BYU AIChE chapter hosted an amazing race for students to jumpstart their safety and ethics learning. Students traveled from room to room in various engineering building, learning from professors and peers.

When organizing the event, Lowman wanted to give leadership opportunities to students who would not have otherwise had them. Moran thought they achieved that goal. “The professionals here have a lot of great stories and a lot of great insights into why it's important work, and how it'll make us just better engineers,” Moran said. “I think there's a lot to learn.”

A weekend dedicated to safety and ethics also appealed to those who had not attended the conference before. Couple Kenny and Anna Smith decided to go together, after Kenny left his mechanical engineering class with a flyer advertising the weekend of learning.

While both students are sophomores, Anna studies public health. After hearing about the conference from her husband, she saw the benefits. “It's very innovative companies who are coming and presenting, and you don't get this opportunity very often to hear some inspiring people,” Anna said.

The two were happy to start the day with eating kolaches and discussing the importance of safety and ethics. Anna called it the best way to spend a Saturday morning. Smiling and laughing before the kick-off lecture began, it seemed that other students felt the same way.

Once again, opportunities for students were opened up by this unique conference offered by BYU Engineering. As Moran said, “I would recommend that all engineering and other technology students attend. Come for the food and resume-building experience, stay for the networking, very important professional lessons, and increased ability to enter the workforce.”