To start, the Ethics Certificate gateway course brought me into an understanding of how to talk about ethics. I learned and experienced so much from this foundational course. I learned how to think about ethics, and, most importantly, how to critique it. We were taught about the three main ideas camps around ethics and how each of those camps have benefits and drawbacks. I read some of the greats: Nietzsche, Machiavelli, Socrates, and Kant, to name a few. I started to understand how ethics, idealism, and faith play into our understanding of our governing bodies.

I took this class alongside a human rights class and a political development class, so I applied what I learned in this class to theories around human rights both locally and globally, critically examining the basis of assumptions I’ve made. This skill proved very, very useful not only in my ethics certificate journey, but also my Political Science major and in life more broadly. I became more comfortable finding and asking questions about the basis of my, and others’, arguments.

This class did not give me the answers to any of the big ethical questions, but it did equip me with the tools to understand and challenge others’ answers to those questions. I am thankful that this class kicked off my college career and ethics certificate because it showed me just how important it is to ask hard questions and think deeply about our motivations. I started this class thinking that the study of ethics was only about right and wrong. This class taught me there are so many ways to think about right and wrong. The theories we studied pushed us to try and take ethically murky issues and sort them into right and wrong based on a theory. This was helpful to really think deeply about why I think some things are “right” versus “wrong.”

I next took Ethics 195: Human Rights and Legal Redress. This built off my understanding in Ethics 101 and looked specifically at large, overarching, global institutions that oversee ethics and ethical pursuits through justice systems. This class was interesting to understand how ethics are baked into largely ‘show’ based political bodies. The class, and my professor Juliette Duara, did a fantastic job asking big questions about the basis of human rights as applied to real-world scenarios like the International Criminal Court’s tribunal for the Cambodian genocide. We looked critically at the UN as well as it is notoriously slow to action and often serves as an emblem for countries to believe in rather than a fast-functioning global organization. These global structures often take the space as value holders for what it means to have a just world.

Through this class I learned how global bodies work as institutions for ethics, how they run, and key players that make these bodies run the way they do. I learned about their shortcomings and ways that people are striving to reimagine these bodies through new (and often more ethical and just) lenses. This class really showed me what it was like to bridge these big ethical questions about punishment, human rights, retribution, with real world issues like tribunals, state strategy, and extradition. This class was a great way to transition my thoughts on ethics from Kant and Nietzsche into something more tangible and apply it to real world issues, like how far we should punish war criminals. My understanding of how easy it is to categorize right and wrong were challenged when we took this learning out of the theoretical and into the practical and applied.

Then, I partook in a summer field experience as a Kenan Summer Fellow. I worked on investigating ethics around outdoor recreation. I looked at two distinct institutions for their ethical practices: the US government and private sector players. I saw ethics applied even more locally; the Human Rights class showed me big-world institutionalization of ethics, but this project brought me closer to how our ethical understanding of our place in the world manifests in the US. I zoomed in even further into the ethics of outdoor recreation in Wyoming and among fellow outdoor enthusiasts.

This was an amazing opportunity to step out of the classroom and into coffee shops and climbing crags to talk with people about what guides their actions. I learned, more forcefully than I was expecting to, how people outside of the academic world reflect on their ethical code. I have plenty of experience talking about and reflecting on my ethical code from the classes I have taken for this certificate; this experience showed me the many, many different ways that people think about their actions without the backup of high-and-mighty universities. It was an amazing grounding opportunity at the end of my first year at college.

I took my ideas about classification of ethical issues into black and white and was challenged to think about the importance of ease and life. There were so many people I talked to that knew the “right” thing to do around outdoor recreation but did not do it because of other life circumstances: they had kids, jobs, and time restraints that stopped them from hiking 200 feet away from a water source to poop. This experience showed me that while it may be easy to dissect ethics in a classroom, if we are to push for a more ethical world, we must consider how tangible the asks we make of people are. How can we best incorporate ethics into our world order? By making the “right” decision the easier one.

At the end of the summer, Delaney Eisen produced this podcast to present her summer research on the ethics of outdoor recreation.

Next, I fulfilled the research experience by serving on the Bass Connections team Elections in a Pandemic, which focused on local politics and asked questions about the ethical code of local governments. This research experience was very fruitful; we got to talk to real people about how they view the role of local government and ask pressing questions about the obligation of local governments upholding the ethic of access to polls.

This research specifically looked at the policies and procedures in place for student voting from 2008 on and found that students were not given access to polls on-campus in ways they should have. Our article (published in Rutgers Law Review) discusses ways that local authorities could have increased accessibility to polls for young voters and asked questions about the ethics and motivations around restricting access to such a vulnerable population.

This experience really showed me how ethics can be institutionalized at the local level in both good and bad ways and was another amazing opportunity to really dive into local ethical issues. Many times during this experience, I got to reflect and connect back to that first ethics class. I thought about the role of government, the idea of self-actualization and the importance of democracy for upholding ideas of human rights. I expanded my interviewing skills in a diverse set of students in Durham, NC. This experience also taught me patience; I think it was the longest project I have ever been a part of and the most impactful. This experience really highlights the “& Society” part of my Ethics & Society certificate. I am glad I was able to give back to my community through research and policy recommendations.

Throughout this time, I had to grapple with my changing thoughts on what it means to live in an ethical world. I thought a true ethical world would be one that had every person act as ethically as possible. I realized, through my work with voting rights, that to have an ethical world means to have people come together to talk and debate what it means to have an ethical world and how we will get there. In politics, we must think about how we want to extend the right to vote. We have to consider, together, fundamental questions about who has the right to have their voice heard. In my research on voting rights, I could see how different state players tried to exert their opinions into law, and I saw the blowback of trying to create a more just world. This shaped my understanding of an ethical world from a place where everyone is trying to do right instead of wrong to a place where people try to discuss what right from wrong is together.

Read more about Delaney Eisen’s Bass Connections team below:

Elections in a Pandemic: Looking Back, Looking Ahead (Bass Connections website)

Provisional Rights and Provisional Ballots in a Swing State: Understanding How and Why North Carolina College Students Lose Their Right to Vote, 2008–Present. Gunther Peck, Ameya Rao, Kathryn Thomas, Delaney Eisen, Miles King, Hannah McKnight and Luhan Yao. 2022. Rutgers University Law Review.

“How a ‘Failsafe’ Protection for Voting Fails Students” (Duke Today, Oct. 2023)

“With Primaries Approaching, Duke students campaign to reduce student voter disenfranchisement” (The Chronicle, Mar. 2024)

During that time, I also took Ethics 301 — Business and Human Rights. This class applied similar ethical principles to business practices. I spent the majority of time in class looking through the eyes of different stakeholders in business issues.

Through case studies and simulations, we looked at different ways that governments, corporations, consumers, and legal bodies analyzed and acted on ethical queries. I took those same skills I learned in the introductory class and built on in subsequent classes and applied them to businesses. This was one of the most tangible/real-world applications of my certificate.

I got to think deeply and critically about the larger ethical issues between businesses and consumers while also investigating how specific businesses could uphold better practices. I completed a semester-long project for the Southern Coalition of Social Justice doing a landscape analysis of Corporate Social Responsibility in Durham, which allowed me to apply some of the skills I had gained thus far in terms of understanding an institution’s ethics.

This class allowed me to go in-depth into cases of ethics played out on a global scale. We had the opportunity to build empathy for major players in ethical dilemmas as I focused my attention on intuition’s responses to ethical problems.

Finally, I took the capstone seminar to finish the certificate program and reflect on these experiences. This capstone seminar was centered around Neuroethics, a broad topic that spans law, punishment, science, and innovation. This was a fantastic way to finish out my certificate.

In this class, we talked about how different people with different brain chemistry are thought about in the law and punished accordingly. This is mostly centered on the insanity defense and mental illness. Neuroethics in the law was another interesting application of ethical codes that spanned ethics, human rights, political will (as incarcerated people are often stripped of the right to vote), and business ethics (reliability of the equipment used to prove insanity).

For our final project, I turned my attention to a future issue in ethical codes; Brain Organoids. Brain Organoids are lab-grown brains made out of human stem cells. They currently have the ability to grow to be pea-sized and make some electrical waves similar to a human brain. In the future, people are worried about their ability to gain consciousness and human-like abilities to process information.

This final project topic made me think into the future about potential risks of technology. I had to use my skills mastered through the certificate to think creatively and critically about impacts of this technology. I thought about human rights issues like whether or not these lab-grown consciousnesses should be considered “human” and thus subject to human rights protections (are we enslaving “people” if we grow brains in a lab to do labor for us against their “will”?). I had to think about business issues within this technology (how do you patent this technology? Who should oversee the ethics of this? Can this amount of power be left to private institutions?).

Brain Organoids are complex issues that touched on nearly every aspect of my certificate and were a clear culmination of my experience in the certificate program. I had to be a forward-thinker by applying my skills built in the introductory class to the topic of Brain Organoids. This issue again developed the idea that the most ethical societies are ones that are constantly in conversation about what is right. We must be talking about what it means to live in a world with Brain Organoids now.


Overall, this certificate program taught me both hard and soft skills about the importance of ethics. I learned different ethical theories and how to critique them. I learned how to apply them to businesses, government (big and small), and people. I even learned how to apply them to future technologies. I learned interviewing skills, analysis, and the art of class discussions. While I can’t say I know for certain how to live an ethical life, I feel I have the skills to continuously push myself to live a more ethical life. And I have the understanding of what it means to live in an ethical society, to be in conversation about what is right. I now have the skills to contribute to this conversation and the willingness to create this conversation wherever I go next.