NanoTRA garners national accolade for infusing ethics into engineering

Posted by Jayme Blaschke
Office of Media Relations
February 19, 2016

Texas State University’s NanoTRA program has been named one of 25 programs nationally by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Center for Engineering Ethics and Society (CEES) that are exemplary in their approach to infusing ethics into the development of engineering students.

The report, Infusing Ethics in the Development of Engineers ( serves as a resource for institutions and educators to strengthen and expand their ethics programs and thus improve the capabilities of practicing and future engineers.

NanoTRA, the Texas Regional Alliance to Foster Nanotechnology Environment, Health and Safety Awareness in Tomorrow’s Engineering and Technology Leaders, is a collaboration between academia and industry that encourages multidisciplinary and multi-institutional faculty collaboration. The integration of ethics content in both technical and non-technical courses is inherent to the program. Faculty members from the Ingram School of Engineering, along with the Departments of Biology and Philosophy, collaborated to bring NanoTRA to fruition.

“Ethical standards in engineering, from practice to solutions, are critical to trust in the profession,” said NAE President C. D. Mote, Jr. “Consequently, these standards are even more important when engineering crosses our nation’s borders and engages with engineers from other cultures to advance the well-being of our world.”

Other universities to earn the NAE recognition include Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Penn State University, Purdue University, Stanford University and the University of Cincinnati. Texas State is the only university from Texas to make the list.

“The recognition of Texas State’s innovative methods of infusing ethics training in the development of engineers showcases our interdisciplinary approach to research and instruction,” said Michael Blanda, assistant vice president for research and federal relations. “Ultimately, this model program may serve as the basis for the inclusion of ethical training in other disciplines.”

The NanoTRA program features modular courses that include societal, ethical, environmental, health and safety issues related to nanotechnology for undergraduates in engineering and engineering technology. Students participating in the program have reported the modules have helped them understand the important ethical, sustainability and social dimensions of emerging technologies, especially nanotechnology.

“Our National Science Foundation-funded project is designed to help prepare engineering and technology students with knowledge and skills they need to responsibly address ethical, social, safety, health and environmental implications of nanotechnology and other emerging technologies,” said Craig Hanks, chair of the Department of Philosophy. “The program is distinctive because it is collaborative between institutions (Texas State, University of Texas-Tyler and Western Michigan University) and disciplines.

“It is designed to recruit, engage, prepare and encourage students from traditionally underrepresented groups into careers in science and engineering, integrate research and teaching, and present ethics as an integral part of engineering practice by infusing teaching materials developed by the project team into more than a dozen courses at Texas State,” he said. “The designation of our project as an Exemplary Engineering Ethics Program is a recognition of the value of these efforts, and a recognition of the sort of innovative multidisciplinary work that is encouraged at Texas State.

The programs described in the NAE report all clearly connect ethics to technical engineering curriculum and conduct assessments of their programs, both of which were criteria for submissions. Additionally, the committee noted significant characteristics such as interactive learning, study of difficult problems that lack clear right and wrong answers, involvement of practicing engineers and alumni, and connection with real-world experiences through internship. The selected programs encompass a range of program types—undergraduate and graduate courses, multiyear programs, extracurricular experiences—and institutions, illustrating the diversity of effective approaches to infusing ethics in engineering education.