It’s an unprecedented change, but one that will elevate the quality of engineers who practice in Wisconsin: For the first time ever, the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services is requiring professional engineers seeking to renew their licenses to complete 30 professional development hours every two years.
And while engineers can meet these requirements in many ways, the Department of Engineering Professional Development offers a wide variety of continuing education courses that enable practicing engineers to update and expand their technical knowledge. Among those courses is a two-hour seminar that fulfills the professional conduct and ethics training requirement.
Engineering Professional Development Faculty Associates Laura Grossenbacher (who teaches ethics to UW-Madison undergraduate engineers) and Howard Rosen (who develops continuing education short courses for practicing engineers) began offering the two-hour continuing-education seminar in October 2012.
Since then, they and other instructors have traveled around Wisconsin to deliver tailored versions of the ethics course to engineers working in both the public and private sectors.
Initially, says Grossenbacher, the engineers are skeptical. After all, how difficult is it to make the “right” decision?
As it turns out, the answer to that question is somewhere along the lines of, “More difficult than you’d think,” given that politics, the bottom line, deadlines and job security are among the many factors that can influence decisions. In fact, in each ethics class, Grossenbacher and Rosen present case studies relevant to their students’ line of work, and they ask the engineers to talk through all the options. “People need to think through these things and realize their immediate answer is not always the best answer,” she says.
Engineers leave with tools that help them navigate situations in which they must make a difficult ethical decision. “So many people have said they were dreading the class, and at the end, can’t believe it’s over so soon,” says Grossenbacher. “The new ethics requirements get people in the door for our seminar. But once they’re there, many of them realize it is a great opportunity to discuss the kinds of dilemmas and ambiguities that keep them up at night.”