Kenan Moral Purpose Award Benner

What role does a liberal arts education play in creating a full life? Duke senior Joyce Er provides an answer in her Kenan Moral Purpose Award-winning essay. In her essay, “The Value of an Interdisciplinary Education,” Er reflected on how her desire to create something of value in the world led her to computer science, while her public policy studies reminded her that “there are no easy solutions—technological or otherwise—to the world’s biggest problems.”

Joyce er
Joyce Er (T’20) Double-major in Computer Science and Public Policy Studies. Hometown: Singapore.

The Value of an Interdisciplinary Education


This year, the competition opened a new category for the best graduate or professional student essay on how their research has informed their moral purpose or challenged prevailing ideas and institutions. Theology, Medicine and Culture Fellow D. Brendan Johnson described in his winning essay, “Moral Medicine,” how his studies in Social Medicine and Liberation Theology led him to question the inherent value structure of professional medicine, realizing, “the status of the poor becomes the ethical standard by which we measure the success of our actions, of our profession, or of our society.”

d. brendan johnson
Brendan Johnson (Divinity ’21). Fellowship in Theology, Medicine, and Culture. Hometown: Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Moral Medicine


The annual Kenan Moral Purpose Award is given for the best undergraduate student essay on the role a liberal arts education plays in students’ exploration of the personal and social purposes by which to orient their future and the intellectual, emotional, and moral commitments that make for a full life. The graduate award is given to the best graduate or professional student essay connecting their research to moral purpose.