Pro bono in engineering: Towards an improved understanding

Publication Type:
Conference Proceeding
Technological Developments in Education and Automation, 2010, pp. 333 - 337
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Pro bono work is more commonly associated with the legal profession than with the engineering profession. It is work that is undertaken at significantly reduced cost to a client. While many engineering professionals do undertake pro bono work, when compared with law and medicine, engineering pro bono work is not as well-known, nor does it attract high-profile support and visible recognition. This is despite the fact that the work of engineering organizations typically has great impact, for example by achieving safer water and improved sanitation. However, even though pro bono engineering work may be comparatively less visible, it is definitely occurring, frequently in ways that successfully address local capacity building, health, sanitation, information technology and housing issues among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. This notwithstanding, it seems that a pro bono culture is less developed in the engineering profession than in the legal profession. It is proposed that part of the process for facilitating a pro bono culture within the engineering profession involves engineering education, and that to this end an important step is to understand engineering students' current attitudes and values with respect to the principles of pro bono. Thus this paper provides the results of a preliminary study about students' attitudes and values about pro bono engineering work. The results of this study suggest that only 10% clearly intend to, and a further 20% might, undertake some form of occasional pro bono work at some point in their careers, together with a general understanding of engineering pro bono. A goal of the study is to explore some underlying issues, with a view to making recommendations on the feasibility and viability of possible approaches for supporting greater recognition and adoption of principles of pro bono within the engineering profession. Pro bono in engineering is relatively unexplored as an area for potentially valuable research, and this paper discusses some of the avenues for potential research. It is concluded that there is great potential for mechanisms to be developed to encourage the principles of pro bono to be more effectively embraced by engineering education programs. © 2010 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.
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