Allan J. McDonald, co-author of Truth, Lies, and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster, spoke to third-year mechanical engineering students on their last day of class, December 6, about his engineering experiences. McDonald was the director of the space shuttle solid rocket motor project at the time of the Challenger accident and led the redesign of the solid rocket motors as vice president of engineering for space operations. He has several patents related to rocket propulsion, published over 80 technical papers that have been presented in national and international conferences, and received numerous professional awards. McDonald was among the few who warned decision makers not to launch Challenger that fateful morning and writes in his book of what they didn’t want the general public to know. Truth, Lies, and O-Rings is the ethical story behind the disaster, which occurred in 1986. Being required reading in the ME EN 3900 Professionalism and Ethics Seminar, the University of Utah has a long standing tradition of bringing this tragic story of ethics, professionalism and engineering genius to the forefront for bright aspiring mechanical engineering students. Recent ABET guidelines require schools to provide “an understanding of professional and ethical responsibility,” according to the ABET site. Earlier this year U.S. News published the story, ethics courses are trending at graduate engineering schools. They quoted UofU president and chemical engineering professor, David Pershing saying, “The University of Utah is one of the schools taking the ABET guidelines seriously.” “This is not because students of today are inherently less ethical, but rather because the ethical dilemmas they are likely to face are more complex and the consequences are much more sever,” he says. “Corporate engineers who violate environmental laws can now face criminal charges with major penalties.” It is noteworthy that the University of Utah’s Mechanical Engineering program has been ABET-accredited since 1936. Students are advised to check whether prospective schools are among the 37 that ABET accredits.
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