National Leader in Engineering Ethics Education Committed to Department’s Role as a Differentiator for UVA Engineering

Rosalyn W. Berne, the Anne Shirley Carter Olsson Professor of Applied Ethics, is the new chair of the Department of Engineering and Society at the University of Virginia School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“Ros is an exceptional scholar, teacher and internationally recognized leader in engineering ethics,” UVA Engineering Dean Jennifer L. West said. “She also believes deeply in the Department of Engineering and Society’s role as a differentiator at a school where our core values include a passion for positive societal impact and a determination to cultivate engineering leaders who apply technical and professional knowledge with integrity and wisdom. I am grateful to Ros for contributing her time, talents and considerable experience to the chair role.”

The mission of UVA Engineering’s science, technology and society program, which is administered by Berne’s department, is to empower and motivate the next generation of engineering professionals so they are capable of making creative, ethical and inspired contributions to the design of society’s future.

“We ensure students internalize these concepts, as well as master vital communication skills, by embedding science, technology and society learning in the engineering curriculum,” Berne said. “That’s what makes UVA Engineering so unusual.”

Above all, students need to understand the relationship between technology and society, and their role in the interplay between to two.

“In 2022, the prevalence of technology in our lives is such that the design choices engineers make affect us all more profoundly than at any other time in human history. Engineers create so many benefits for society, but new technologies inevitably lead to greater and greater complexities in determining what’s right and what’s good,” Berne said.

“We make something because we can, and then we start using the artifact and we think, ‘Uh oh, look what we did. Did we mean to do that?’ Our job as educators is to help students understand the importance of first asking, ‘Why are we doing this, and should we be, given our social, ethical and environmental responsibilities as engineers?’ As chair, that question will always be my guidepost.”

Berne will take over for Deborah Johnson, emeritus Anne Shirley Carter Olsson Professor of Applied Ethics, who has served as interim chair of the department since Joseph L. Vaughn Professor of Humanities W. Bernard Carlson stepped down in June 2021.

Berne joined UVA Engineering in 1999, after earning all three of her degrees at the University – a bachelor’s in speech communication, a master’s in rhetoric and communication studies, and a Ph.D. in religious studies with a focus on bioethics. She is the author of five books, for which she has won multiple awards.

Her published conference proceedings and journal articles represent a wide range of topics related to engineering ethics, engineering ethics education, and ethics of emerging and converging technologies.

From May 2018 to July 2020, Berne led the National Academy of Engineering’s Center for Engineering Ethics and Society, and in that role she oversaw the NSF-funded Online Ethics Center as a valuable repository of ethics resources for educators, students, researchers and occasionally practitioners looking for help to teach, understand or just think through ethical issues in their work.

When Berne returned to UVA Engineering in the summer of 2020, the NSF requested that the center remain under her direction, so the Online Ethics Center came home to UVA.

In addition to teaching science, technology and society courses at UVA Engineering, Berne’s broad experience includes serving as executive director of the Olsson Center for Applied Ethics at the Darden School of Business, teaching ethics classes at Darden and teaching in the UVA School of Medicine’s summer program for students from underrepresented backgrounds aspiring to medical and dental professions.

Berne describes teaching as her true vocation, with an emphasis on creating positive learning environments by supporting students to develop their curiosity, passion and self-awareness.

“I am inspired by our engineering students, especially those who aspire to use their skills and knowledge to serve society’s best interests,” Berne said.

“We want them to think critically about engineering and technology, to wisely navigate ethically challenging terrain, and to become effective communicators who can make their positions and ideas understood by others. Leading the department charged with teaching these essential skills is a solemn responsibility, and I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity.”

Rosalyn Berne portrait

Rosalyn W. Berne, professor of science, technology and society in the Department of Engineering and Society, is the Anne Shirley Carter Olsson Professor of Applied Ethics.