Re-Imagining Tech Fellowship Encourages Engineering and Computer Science Students Toward Moral Purpose in Work (July 2021)
This summer, 18 Duke undergraduates pursuing majors in engineering or computer science are exploring the ways moral purpose and character are central to what it means to do good work in technical fields. The Re-Imagining Tech Fellowship includes weekly meetings with readings, speakers and activities that confront the idea that engineers and computer scientists are neutral, and encourages students to think of themselves as moral agents who share responsibility for the implications of their innovations.
“As engineers and computer scientists, we’re increasingly challenged with problems that have ramifications far outside our discipline, and I think it’s critical that we equip ourselves to meet them,” said Megan Richards, a rising senior who is studying Electrical and Computer Engineering with a concentration in machine learning and a Science & Society certificate in Digital Intelligence. “ReTech is such a unique program because it puts us face to face (virtually) with such a broad range of expert stakeholders — lawyers, technologists, researchers, industry designers, advocacy organizers — learning from people who have both experienced these issues as they’ve developed, and are leaders in shaping the solutions.”
Students like Megan are participating in ReTech one evening per week alongside their summer internships.
During a recent session, fellows considered issues around facial recognition technologies. They were instructed to gather make up, fabrics and other household materials before the session, and then an expert in the facial detection resistance movement led an activity where students used the materials to create custom looks that undermine common facial detection systems. This hands-on experience accompanied a discussion of facial recognition technology’s history and current uses, as well as its civil liberties implications and disparate impact on marginalized communities.
“This program is really designed to help students understand the consequences, both intended and unanticipated, that their work as computer scientists and engineers can have for individuals and society, and to encourage thoughtful analysis of the ethical implications of that work — whether it is designing a medical device, developing software, creating an app or building a smart city,” said Jolynn Dellinger, Program Director for ReTech, Kenan Senior Fellow, and Senior Lecturing Fellow at Duke Law School. “We are also talking about these issues in the context of employment, exploring strategies to find work that aligns with personal values, to raise and talk about ethical concerns at work, to avoid harm, and to work for good.”
Each fellow is paired with a mentor for virtual conversations throughout the summer, giving fellows the opportunity to discuss issues with someone in their particular field.
“My mentor, who happens to work at the same company, has been beneficial in helping me adjust to my first internship and evaluate the actions and structure of Big Tech corporations,” said Major Glenn, a rising sophomore who is interested in computer science and mathematics.
ReTech is part of The Purpose Project at Duke, which seeks to make questions of moral purpose and character central to a Duke education. The Purpose Project encourages students to view the civic, moral, and intellectual virtues as central to a meaningful life, and to apply practical wisdom to the work they pursue within a given field. For engineering and computer science students, that means considering the myriad ways technologies are being developed and used throughout society.
“The breadth of topics we have explored so far, from novel software and social media to humanitarian engineering, has shifted my definition of technology,” said Glenn. “Rather than viewing ethics as a valuable tool to be integrated into technology, I now view technology as a people-driven practice fundamentally dependent on ethics.”
As Megan Richards starts her senior year and considers life after graduation, she appreciates the way the summer fellowship has given her a broader sense of what it means to pursue meaningful work. “ReTech has pushed me to challenge my assumptions and to reexamine the role and skills I want to leverage toward making technology safer, more inclusive, and more equitable.”
ReTech is co-sponsored by the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Trinity College, and Pratt School of Engineering as part of The Purpose Project at Duke.
virtual events worth revisiting (June 2021)
The past year was marked by an abundance of virtual events that brought together panels and speakers who were physically distant and might not otherwise have been able to be together. Many of these talks were recorded and are available for summer viewing. Here is a roundup of some of our favorites from the past several months:
- Character, Diversity, and the Professions – The Wake Forest Program for Leadership and Character hosted a virtual conference on Character and the Professions in March. There were many excellent sessions, but this presentation by Wharton Professor Stephanie Creary on the connection between virtue and diversity initiatives was a standout and worth a watch.
- Virtues in the Professions: A panel discussion – The Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues hosted a webinar series that included a panel on medicine, engineering and the military. This webinar delves into the particularities of virtue in each profession while promoting dialogue and learning across professions. Panelists included Dr. Sabena Jameel, Professor David Bogle, and Major Dr. Scott Parsons.
- Black Women in a White Coat – The book Black Man in a White Coat by Damon Tweedy examines the complex ways that both Black doctors and patients navigate the difficult terrain of race and medicine. Using the book’s themes as a starting place, the Duke Alumni Association hosted a panel of Black women doctors to discuss their perspectives and advice on issues of race and medicine.
- Give Virtue a Chance: What Nasty Renaissance Politics Can Tell Us About Nasty Modern Politics – The James Madison Program at Princeton University hosted Harvard History Professor James Hankins to discuss his most recent book,Virtue Politics: Soulcraft and Statecraft in Renaissance Italy, and the implications for civic education and politics.
- Human Flourishing: Caring and Character in the Medical Profession – The Kern National Network presented a series of webinars on human flourishing and medicine this spring. In the first discussion of the series, Drs. Andrea Leep (Mayo), Bonnie Miller (Vanderbilt), and John Luk (Dell Medical School) use storytelling to consider the interrelated concepts of caring and character within medicine.
Race and the Professions (May 2021)
During the summer of 2020, many Americans took to the streets after the murder of George Floyd and emerging statistics about COVID health disparities brought issues of racial justice to the foreground of national discourse. In response, The Purpose Project at Duke developed the Race and the Professions Fellowship, a year-long program for graduate students to explore the challenges of racial inequities and the work of antiracism in the professions, the broader community, and the world.
Funded by a grant from The Duke Endowment, The Purpose Project at Duke is a multi-year, campus-wide initiative focused on integrating a focus on character, purpose, and vocation into undergraduate, graduate, and professional education. The Race and the Professions Fellowship was designed to make clear the connection between virtue and anti-racism work, and to give students a place to work through how their vocational purpose could align with the pursuit of racial justice.
“In creating the fellowship last year, and in wanting to bring together a diverse group of graduate and professional students from different walks of life, we understood that the fellowship could not be a ‘how-to-eradicate-racism-in-three-steps,’ as if it were that simple,” said A.J. Walton, associate director of The Purpose Project. “But what we wanted was to create a space for students to learn from others who’ve been in the trenches studying and doing the work, and — in thinking alongside each other and seeing commonalties across professions – begin or continue to think of ways to trouble the waters in their own fields.”
More than 200 graduate and professional students applied to the fellowship. Twenty-eight fellows were chosen, representing eight schools, eight Trinity departments, and three interdisciplinary programs.
Beginning in September 2020, fellows participated in regular virtual meetings. At most meetings, they heard from a guest speaker about his or her personal journey reckoning with racial issues. The fellows then had the chance to interact with the speaker. After the speaker left, the meetings transitioned to small group breakout sessions followed by a large group discussion.
“Some of our speakers were politicians and religious leaders who’ve taken risks to pursue racial justice, realizing it might lead to the loss of their own jobs,” said Walton. “Others were people working in large companies who discussed the wisdom necessary to navigate racism and anti-racism work as professionals in corporate America. All of the speakers emphasized the importance of and their commitment to the work, whatever vocation they found themselves in.”
Students wrote reflections after these meetings. They wrestled with the messy and often complicated nature of the work, and considered together the on-the-ground opportunities and barriers that exist within their fields.
“To be the first of anything is never easy, especially virtually and in a pandemic, but session-to-session our inaugural cohort chose to show up, be vulnerable, and to use their life and professional experiences to challenge each other, our guest speakers, and especially the facilitators,” Walton said. “Their voices will, for sure, have an impact on how the fellowship takes shape in the future and ultimately the professions in which they’ll enter.”
UVA Equips Student-Athletes to Promote Flourishing (April 2021)
When University of Virginia men’s lacrosse player Quentin Matsui was a first-year student, he noticed that at practice, his teammates worried about schoolwork, and in class, they were worried about their performance on the field. As a student in “The Art and Science of Human Flourishing,” a first-semester interdisciplinary course sponsored by the UVA Contemplative Sciences Center (CSC), he learned about mindfulness, and thought that his team might feel less stressed if they incorporated the practices.
In the spring of 2020, Matsui and 3 other UVA athletes were chosen as inaugural Citizen Leaders and Sports Ethics Community Impact Fellows. The fellowship was designed to encourage student athletes to identify a specific, pressing challenge to the well-being or flourishing of their teammates or the larger community of student-athletes at UVA and spend their fellowship year designing and implementing programs to overcome those challenges. Fellows are also required to assess the impact of their projects using effective research measures.
Leslie Hubbard, CSC’s Program Director for Student Engagement and Contemplative Instruction, coached the fellows during bi-weekly virtual meetings during the summer of 2020. “We took their initial ideas and broke them down into things they could measure, and things they could do without a budget,” Hubbard said. “I told them, whatever you do, you have to have buy-in from your team and your coach.”
For Matsui, that meant tapping into enthusiasm after sports psychologist Bob Rotella gave an inspiring talk to the team last summer. As a follow up, the lacrosse coach planned to have the team talk about a chapter from Rotella’s book, How Champions Think in Sports and In Life, each week. Matsui realized that the sports psychology principles aligned well with mindfulness and asked his coach if he could introduce a mindfulness practice each week as part of the book discussion. Matsui developed a curriculum and has been working with his team to practice mindfulness as his fellowship project.
“For someone like Quentin, as a second-year, to be brave enough to engage his upperclassmen lacrosse team on something like mindfulness and being more sensitive is amazing,” Hubbard said. “I think it is very cool to see how this fellowship can slowly change culture.”
Another fellow, Maddie Bolyston, used the video discussion platform Flipgrid to ask her volleyball teammates questions each week and then lead a discussion on Sunday nights about their answers.
“Maddie asked about things that they never talked about but that could really affect performance and the ways they perceived each other, questions such as, ‘If you mess up on the court, what are helpful things teammates can say,’” Hubbard said. “The fellowship gets them thinking and empowers them to take action and create change in their community.”
As the inaugural year of the Citizen Leaders and Sports Ethics Community Impact Fellowship wraps up, the CSC is reviewing applications for 2021-2022. The first cohort of four fellows were all second-year students, but the fellowship is expanding to include all classes. Fellows will attend a Summer Leadership Academy to plan their projects and begin implementing them in the fall. She is excited to see what will happen when even more student-athletes develop the knowledge and skills to pursue more engaged, healthy, values-driven, and successful personal, professional, and civic lives at UVA and beyond.
Exploring Social Justice, Empathy and Engineering Pedagogy (March 2021)
How can best practices in community engagement improve engineering, and what does engineering have to do with justice? Engineering professor David Delaine and the Inclusive Community-Based Learning lab (iCBL) at The Ohio State University (OSU) is exploring these questions in a reciprocal partnership with community member Paula Nabrit and her family at the Charles Madison Nabrit Community Garden in Columbus, Ohio.
“The partnership is pursuing social justice outcomes for a local, predominantly Black community by providing access to healthy food in a food insecure neighborhood and by creating opportunities for neighborhood youth to be exposed to STEM education,” Delaine said. “The partnership also supports University outcomes by providing the context for a service-learning based course, supported by an OSU partner in this work, Dr. Chris Ratcliff, and serving as a platform for data collection and research.”
The iCBL defines a reciprocal partnership as one where the parties benefit mutually from the needs addressed and actions taken within service learning. Delaine hopes that research and theory can better inform how to develop and maintain reciprocal partnerships in engineering in the context of community-based learning. The goal is to promote understanding of how engineering and injustice intersect on an everyday level and as a pedagogy for cultivating empathy in engineering students.
“I recognized that education, and perhaps especially higher education, has a duty to more broadly disseminate and share what it does, the resources that it has, and the ways it can promote better lives for people through education,” Delaine said. “But often when institutions leave their walls, they do so, intentionally or unintentionally, in ways that maintain their authority. There are new models that promote more equitable ways of doing this, mostly coming out of the community engagement literature.”
In addition to developing more reciprocal and equitable partnerships, Delaine is also interested in building on others’ research on empathy in engineering to explore whether empathy could be explicitly taught in community-based learning.
“The assets that the pedagogy brings align well with the concept of what empathy is and how it is valuable in engineering,” Delaine said. “Our quantitative results indicate that community-based learning is a valuable platform for developing skills in empathy.” They found that service learning, naturally an effective way to develop empathy, was even more effective when empathy was taught directly in context.
In addition to the community garden, the iCBL has partnered and conducted research in an international service-learning project, efforts with the OSU Humanitarian Engineering Scholars Program, a K-12 outreach program with the OSU chapters of the National Society of Black Engineersand Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, and through the Toy Adaptation Program in the College of Engineering at OSU. By looking at curricular, co-curricular, and volunteer initiatives, the lab is assessing learning outcomes and effectiveness in a variety of contexts. A common thread in the iCBL work is helping engineering students develop a professional identity with a sense of meaning that is geared toward good work.
“I don’t believe that anything is 100% technical. We are humans. As engineers we do things that are relevant towards society. Even the most technical-seeming task will have ramifications and implications on all of us,” Delaine said. “We live in a world where equity has always been a challenge. Equity has often been foregone for capital gains and the gains of a few. Without centering elements of justice, without teaching engineers and all professions the ways in which their work intersects with considerations of justice and equity, we are leaving blind spots with respect to the to the potential good and the harm embedded within our work.”
Interested in learning more? Watch this video presentation by David Delaine on the work of the iCBL.
Moral Moments in Medicine (February 2021)
This year, a group of 40 students and 16 faculty in the Schools of Medicine and Nursing at Duke are participating in Moral Moments in Medicine: Pandemics, Race, Social Justice, a new course hosted by the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine in collaboration with The Purpose Project at Duke, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and the Center for Interprofessional Education and Care. Over eight months, healthcare trainees and clinicians from the School of Medicine’s Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), and Physician Assistant (PA) programs and the School of Nursing’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program are bringing the resources of medical humanities and ethics to bear on how they navigate the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism.
“The pandemic has revealed massive fissures in our current society, and also gives us an opportunity to re-examine the status quo with new eyes,” says Sneha Mantri, MD, MS, who co-directs the course with Trent Center Director, Jeff Baker, MD, PhD.
Participants engage in one of six different monthly small groups organized around themes such as “Voices in Pandemic: Stories of Resistance and Social Justice,” “Epidemics, Disparities, and History,” and “Artistic Connections in Times of Trial.” Each group is co-led by two or more faculty. Students also participate in medical humanities lectures, narrative exercises, book clubs, and film discussions related to the course themes.
In January, one book club spent an evening in conversation with Duke physician Damon Tweedy, exploring the issues raised by his award-winning memoir Black Man in a White Coat.
For Baker, who is a pediatrician and medical historian, this kind of deep engagement demonstrates what the humanities can bring to conversations about race and social justice.
“Students rightly want to ‘do something,’” he says. “Yet when I speak to community members, they always tell me we need to listen before we act.”
This spring, if pandemic infection rates and protocols allow, the group plans to take “walks through social history” around Durham to see and hear how health disparities have manifested at the local level.
History and the humanities, according to Baker, help form us into better listeners. By becoming the sorts of people capable of listening in these ways, health professionals and trainees can discover deeper purpose in their daily work and so contribute both to the practice of healthcare and to our common life together.
Baker, Mantri, and others in the Trent Center are working to create an ecology of educational opportunities designed to form health professionals and trainees in the habits of listening well to long-silenced individuals and communities. The collaborative approach of Moral Moments in Medicine will be a cornerstone of this work as it expands into a longitudinal curriculum bridging the Schools of Medicine and Nursing. In this way, the course has been a catalyst for foregrounding questions of character and purpose in professional formation.
An Engineering Prototype for Life (January 2021)
This spring, Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California is offering two new courses to help engineering students apply their technical skills toward thinking about issues of purpose, vocation and the sort of lives they want to live.
Sophomores in the new “Prototyping Your Mudd” course will use the engineering design process to map out a plan for the rest of their college experience, and explore topics such as the purpose of college and how to tailor the engineering major.
Seniors in the “Prototyping Your Future Self” course will use the same process to design their lives and careers. The course is loosely based on Stanford University’s popular “Designing Your Life” course, but is customized for Harvey Mudd Engineering seniors. Topics include the integration of a student’s worldview and philosophy of work as well as how to approach the planning process. By the end of the course, seniors will have developed and prototyped several potential life plans for the 3-5 years following graduation and will be equipped to navigate their career and life, including the changes and challenges that will inevitably present themselves.
“We want to connect with students on the design process,” said Harvey Mudd Professor of Engineering Nancy Lape. “The focus is not just on the academic or careers. We ask students to write about what they want and why as they develop a few ‘design alternatives’ for their life.”
Both the sophomore and senior courses allow students to prototype professional and personal activities to determine which potential pathways best align with their personal philosophy and interests. The courses incorporate small group discussion, in-class activities, guest speakers, discussions with alumni, personal reflection, and individual coaching.
“You only get a few summers to try things out while you’re in college,” Lape said. “We want to help students think of other, lower stakes ways to try things they might be interested in as they explore where they want to invest more time.”
The idea for this course emerged during a workshop at Olin College several years ago, when participants in a small group brainstormed about education. Nancy Lape and Harvey Mudd Engineering Department Chair Liz Orwin took those ideas to a workshop offered by the Stanford Life Design Lab, and began developing the courses for Harvey Mudd students.
“At Olin we had a brainstorming session where we started talking about students creating their own experiences,” Lape said. “At the time, our ideas were vague and wild, but that’s how the best ideas start. We followed the advice of taking the most delightful part of an idea and harnessing that into a more realistic idea.”
Whether in designing a course or the next few years of her life, Lape is convinced that the same skills that make her a good engineer can help her become a better educator and person. This semester, her students will help her test that delightful idea.
Examining Honesty (December 2020)
Wake Forest University recently launched a 3-year initiative called the Honesty Project to explore what honesty is and how it affects relationships, groups, and institutions. Funded by a $4.4 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation, the project will support many studies across fields including psychology, business, economics, and political science, as well as a number of projects on the philosophy of honesty.
“We tend to think of ourselves as honest people. But, for surprising reasons, we will sometimes lie, cheat or steal. Honesty comes up all the time in daily interactions. There are opportunities to be honest or fail to be honest, both in the very minor things, like white lies, or in major things. We hope the Honesty Project will help us better understand this crucial but surprisingly neglected virtue,” said Wake Forest University A.C. Reid Professor of Philosophy Christian B. Miller, Director of the Honesty Project, author of The Character Gap and co-editor of the 2020 book Integrity, Honesty and Truth Seeking.
Miller and team are collaborating with Taya Cohen, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Theory at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business. Cohen is researching honesty between colleagues and between mentors and mentees as they share critical but difficult feedback. She hopes to find barriers to honesty and to develop strategies to help people be kind and honest in their communication.
Other research within the project will look into questions such as how to encourage honesty and if there are times when dishonesty is justified.
In conjunction with this project, Miller recently published an Op-Ed in The New York Times entitled “Just How Dishonest are Most Students?” in which he explored honesty and cheating among college students and discussed the efficacy of honor codes and what makes them effective. The entire Honesty Project seeks not only to study and measure honesty, but also to identify the most effective ways to cultivate the virtue.
“We want our children to grow up to be honest, we want politicians and other leaders to be honest, we value honesty in society and in the workplace. And yet, we have so much more to learn about honesty,” Miller said.
What Does Empathy Have To Do With Engineering? (November 2020)
Nicola Sochacka and colleagues at the University of Georgia began teaching empathic communication within core engineering courses more than 5 years ago. As the team has researched the theory, pedagogy, and effectiveness of this work, they have become convinced that empathy is an important skill for engineers.
“Empathy helps us build better relationships and better relationships equal better outcomes,” Sochacka said. “We see empathy as one of the skills that is necessary to identify the different features of a complex problem.”
Sochacka and colleagues developed four 75-minute communication modules and incorporated them into a mandatory mechanical engineering course called “Engineered Systems in Society.” They then practiced applying the principles from the modules in work on case studies
For instance, in a case study on the Dakota Access Pipeline, students were assigned specific stakeholders and asked to learn about their viewpoints through research and interviews with at least two members of the group. Stakeholders included oil companies, Native Americans, the Army Corps of Engineers, environmental conservation groups, and others. When students presented their findings in class, 8 of the 9 groups fully supported their stakeholders’ perspectives.
“Students empathized strongly with their stakeholder groups,” Sochacka said. “That was an indication of the power of empathy. When you dig into someone’s perspective, you can really understand them.”
The class then worked together, bringing all perspectives to bear, and reached consensus on what they thought would have been the best resolution to the Dakota Access Pipeline projec“As an engineer, you need to have good relationships with your clients, with other stakeholders – what’s referred to as ‘the public’ in the code of ethics for engineers. I also think it is important to have a good relationship with the natural environment,” Sochacka said.
Sochacka and her colleagues have developed a resource for faculty called Facilitating Empathetic Communication Modules in Undergraduate Engineering Education: A Handbook.
“At the moment we are working on propagating these modules to other universities across the country, and by propagating I don’t mean ‘take this and do exactly this’ – I mean we work closely with people to build a shared understanding of the underlying theory and learning outcomes but what is actually done in class might look very different,” she said. She gave an example of helping a professor at another university adapt the modules for a fluid mechanics class.
Sochacka hopes to see a greater emphasis on empathic communication in schools of engineering. “Yes, solving problems and collecting data is important, but there are other ways to communicate and one of those ways is empathically.”