This research explored the perspectives of engineering students on the relationship between service in the military and views of social responsibility as engineers, in particular professional connectedness or the obligation that an engineer has to help solve social problems or help others using their professional skills. Three research questions (RQs) were examined: (1) How does the professional connectedness of engineering students attending a military academy compare to students at other institutions? (2) How do engineering students with military aspirations view social responsibilities related to the engineering profession and perceive negative feelings from their peers related to the ethics of military service? (3) How do engineering students with a history of military service view social responsibilities related to the engineering profession and perceive negative feelings from others related to the ethics of military service? The first RQ was examined using the results from two large surveys of engineering students attending 17 institutions with about 3300 respondents, including 222 students attending one of the U.S. military academies. The professional connectedness element of social responsibility was measured using 19 Likert-type items with a 7-point response scale. It was found that the average professional connectedness of male engineering students attending a military academy was higher than male engineering students attending other types of institutions. With respect to RQ2, interviews were conducted with two students participating in ROTC and one who conducted research on drones. These students described their social responsibilities related to military issues as including using engineering to protect troops and the public, the role of the military in taking down oppressive governments, and the military role in responding to disasters. To explore RQ3, open ended questions on the survey allowed students to describe events or courses that influenced their views of social responsibility and/or to define their ideas of social responsibility, and one alumnus who was a veteran also shared his story during an interview. These veterans saw military service as a strong reflection of social responsibility and a sacrifice to the greater good. Some veterans pushed back on the notion of social responsibility as an obligation in general. One student veteran shared a story of being disparaged for his military association. The results help engineering faculty understand the perspectives of students with military backgrounds and/or aspirations. Faculty should consider these perspectives in their teaching, particularly when facilitating discussions and debates around ethics and societal impacts in their courses.
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