Purdue University Graduate School

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Professional Socialization of Engineers: Moral Formation and Organizational Culture

posted on 2022-07-28, 19:43 authored by Dayoung KimDayoung Kim

Novice engineers become engineering professionals through the process of professional socialization. An important dimension of professional socialization is moral formation, and engineering education contributes to the initial process of the moral formation of engineering students. However, engineering ethics education has mainly focused on teaching ethical issues and reasoning skills, and the limitation of such approaches has been often pointed out. This dissertation is the result of the exploratory investigations to obtain insights into engineering practitioners’ moral formation, which could eventually lead to knowledge for more effectively facilitating engineering students’ moral formation.  

This dissertation consists of four independent but related studies. The first study (Chapter 2) is a theoretical study to establish a new framework for engineers’ professional socialization, which includes moral formation. To create the framework, I synthesized the ideas of Durkheim, Kohlberg, Hoffman, and Haidt on moral formation, with Durkheim as a common thread, and argued that the moral formation process is influenced and promoted by social discipline, a collective process that utilizes cultural influences, with respect for individual differences.

The following three studies are empirical studies informed by the first theoretical study. The second study explored the political ideologies and moral foundations of engineers in the United States. I examined how engineers’ political ideologies are associated with their moral foundations and how engineers’ political ideologies and moral foundations vary across their employment sectors, organizational positions, and demographic attributes. Especially, the comparison across different employment sectors could provide insights for ethics researchers because the working environment, which can be informed by the dominant thoughts and attitudes of the members of the group, could potentially inform the contents of the social discipline. The third study examined the relationships between engineering professionals’ personality traits, moral foundations, and political ideology, and how these interact with their workplace organizational cultures. The knowledge about the relationships and interactions could provide insights on deepening the understanding of individual differences in the moral formation process. The fourth study explored engineers’ moral narratives, and I introduced four examples. The results showed that individual engineers’ moral narratives are intertwined with their life history as a person, although there are some different approaches to pursuing a moral life. 

Each study in this dissertation independently contributes to enhancing the understanding of different aspects of engineers’ moral formation, which is a complex and multifaceted process where engineers’ individual characteristics and the culture of their organizations interact. While the influence of organizational culture on moral behavior has been studied by business ethicists, this dissertation appears to be the first to examine the role of organizational culture in the moral formation of engineers. I discuss the potential opportunity to design a new pedagogy based on this dissertation as future work.    


Bilsland Dissertation Fellowship of Purdue Graduate School

Dale and Suzi Gallagher Professorship of Purdue University School of Engineering Education

National Science Foundation Grant No. 2024301


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Engineering Education

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Brent K. Jesiek

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee co-chair

Michael C. Loui

Additional Committee Member 2

Ruth A. Streveler

Additional Committee Member 3

Louis Tay

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