As the pilot year of our Ethics in Action program nears its end, the Ethics Lab team and our partners at Kent Place School are reflecting on the year’s successes and failures, looking ahead to future iterations. The core belief that motivates the program remains unchanged: a creative, ethical mindset in students is one of the best things we, as educators, can equip them with in today’s world. We believe the best way to do that is through scaffolded engagement with complex contexts in a project-based, design-driven learning environment.

Our pilot year has taught us that there is also a valuable professional development opportunity for teachers to gain training in design as a new tool to facilitate student learning. Teachers are an integral part of the program and that’s why, in our next iteration, we plan to implement very strong professional development and teacher training for faculty entering the program. We hope to equip teachers with toolkits and curricula in practical ethics, design methods, and specific content knowledge that they can then take back to their home schools and leverage to educate students more effectively.

The Ethics in Action program aims to export the dynamic studio environment of Ethics Lab to high schools across the country. This expansion of the Lab’s portfolio to target a younger demographic flows naturally from our undergraduate educational efforts. In addition, the program builds on the Kennedy Institute’s pioneering High School Bioethics Curriculum Project (HSBCP) launched in 1998/1999. The HSBCP offered interdisciplinary bioethics teaching workshops to high school teachers across the curriculum. Through these workshops and follow-up the HSBCP offered teachers curriculum and teaching support, education in contemporary bioethics issues, and ongoing research assistance and resource development through the Institute’s Bioethics Research Library.

As part of our ongoing Ethics in Action partnership, Ethics Lab Head of Operations & Product Development Nico Staple and Lab Fellow Jesse Flores have made several trips to the Ethics Institute at Kent Place School over the past months to meet with student teams and continue mentoring their design projects as they work towards the final summit in April.

Last summer, student teams at Kent Place and Trinity Hall schools were tasked with designing pathways forward for ethical issues surrounding food in their local communities. In the process, they’ve heard from industry experts on GMOs, food deserts, local farming, branding of humanely harvested food, and other pressing issues.

Teams are in the final stage of their work, refining prototypes and testing their products and services in the real world (what we at the lab would call “the little squiggle”).

Here’s what some of the groups are up to:

  • Foodel: connect local eateries with food banks to facilitate the donation of excess daily food using driver’s ed students as the transportation from local business to food bank [Website]
  • F.A.T. (Female Athlete Triad): build a community of female athletes (student, local, and professional) to promote mentorship and responsible training and eating
  • Equal Eats: inspire kids to learn about nutrition by encouraging them to create beautiful and playful plates of healthy meals and submit photos to an online competition
  • Full Basket: pilot a mentorship program between 5th graders and 1st graders to encourage them to eat healthier, starting with lunch in the cafeteria
  • GROW: establish a pay-it-forward program with local businesses in which people add an item to their purchase that becomes an in-kind donation to people in need

As a continuation of the partnership that kicked off in June 2015, Ethics Lab hosted students and teachers from Kent Place School and Trinity Hall for a two day Ethics in Action design jam to develop projects that tackle ethical issues related to food.

Over the course of two cupcake-fueled days, students presented personas, mapped persona ecosystems, prototyped products and services, and responded to critiques.

The design jam was a blast — check out more photos and coverage on Storify.

A snapshot from EthicsLab’s week in New Jersey, helping to lead Ethics in Action at Kent Place Schools. On day one, teams of participating high school students are introduced to design thinking, ethical decision-making frameworks, and some core issues in the ethics of food.


image credit: Lisa Yokana

We are so excited to be partnering with the Ethics Institute at Kent Place Schools in Summit, NJ, on a new program for high school students and educators called Ethics in Action.

Selected high schools will send teams of students and teachers first to Kent Place, for a four-day summer immersion internship, and later to Georgetown, for a two-day intensive session in the lab. These students will learn, work and become Design Fellows, ready to engage in solutions to actual challenges faced in their respective school communities around the issue of food.

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Ethics Lab hosts ‘designer turned activist’ Krystal Arnett Henson

Krystal Arnett Henson visited Ethics Lab last week to speak with students about her experience as a “designer turned activist.” Henson is the founder of WalkingDot, a DC area program that teaches human-centered design to everyday citizens. WalkingDot teaches problem solving through empathy and design and connects volunteers with their local communities—mobilizing and empowering individuals to use their talents for social change.

Students were most interested in Henson’s recent work to create ways for citizens to easily become involved in the growing activist movements (even if they considered themselves introverts as Henson herself does).

First she created Postcards From The People to encourage citizens to make sure their voices are heard. The online resource provides postcard templates that citizens can use to write and mail their state and federal representatives about issues they care about. Henson partnered with artists and designers to create the artwork for the postcards, which are free to print at home.

Volunteer artists and designers also team up with Henson to create event and issue-specific illustrations for the postcards, including a recent campaign supporting career officials in the EPA.

After quickly becoming known as “the postcard lady” in local grassroots circles, Henson connected with two other local activists to start Postcards For Virginia, an effort that aims to get out the Democratic vote in Virginia for the recent statewide election.

Postcards For Virginia started in May of this year, in anticipation of the June 13 primary. The initial round of postcards were general “get out the vote” messages that didn’t endorse any specific Democratic candidate. Leading up to the June election, approximately 400 volunteers mailed 7,200 postcards to fellow voters. When the June election broke the Democratic turnout record by 220,000 voters they knew there was a real opportunity.

“People are paying more attention,” Henson said of the June election. “We need to reach out to these folks. If we don’t engage people now, nothing is going to change.”

The team utilized the growing grassroots network by attending meetings to share the project as well as using Facebook and Twitter to connect with volunteer writers. The project quickly became a way for people locally and even across the country to connect in person or online as a community. Organically the project grew beyond their expectations and in the end Postcards for Virginia’s volunteers personally wrote and paid for more than 136,000 “get out the vote” postcards leading up to the Virginia general election this November.

Henson spoke to our students too soon after the historic outcomes of the November 7 election to offer specific insights, but her team is working with the social and behavioral scientists at CitizenBe to conduct a research study on the impact of the project.

Ethics Lab students are working on a project using social media and animated slides to create five “postcards.” Students asked Henson about her path from professional designer to activist, and sought out advice and insight on how to best communicate their messages – particularly those with a call to action.

“Find a way to connect—quickly. You’ve got five slides to tell a story but only one to make me care enough to click. Lead with the most powerful thing you have and end with how I can do something.”

In addition to her work as an activist, Henson has been a practicing designer, across multiple disciplines, for over 20 years. She has taught graduate level design at the George Washington University’s Corcoran School as well as the Corcoran College of Art + Design where she served as Chair of the Interior Design department.

New projects underway at Ethics Lab HQ

» fourth in a series of posts by Emily Unrue, Ethics Lab Program Manager

There are quite a few exciting things happening in Ethics Lab and at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics the past few weeks. To that end, I’m taking a detour from my behind the scenes glimpse at the University as a Design Problem course to provide a more general update on some of the things we’re working on here at Healy Hall.

Our fearless leader, Dr. Maggie Little, is in Buenos Aires, Argentina this week where she delivered the keynote address at the Global Forum for Bioethics in Research. The second round of crits wrapped up for our three studio courses. And we’ll be hosting our first open house for philosophy graduate students this Friday over lunch to acquaint them with the lab space and jointly explore ethical concepts through activity-based learning.

Behind the scenes, our team has been working feverishly to assemble a portfolio of initiatives and projects that will be delivered in late 2016, spring 2017. Here’s a sampling:

  • A new website for our quarterly bioethics journal was rolled out earlier this week. Our team is also eying some strategic revamps to our digital space, so you’ll likely notice some changes to our website in the coming months.
  • Development of ethics and design based “toolkits” for K-12 classrooms is underway. If you’re interested in beta-testing our products, send us an email!
  • We’re also set to deliver a high school professional development training on the topic of enhancement this upcoming January 5-7, 2017. For more information or to join us at this event, please reach out to me directly.
  • Dr. Little and Prof. Dhillon will be delivering the inaugural Georgetown University data ethics course in spring 2017 (PHIL 108-101). This course will combine traditional lecture, discussion, and assignments with project-based learning. In partnership with the CIO of Georgetown, students will work in teams to produce real world projects that include prototyping a new policy for the use of student data at Georgetown.

2017 is going to be a prolific year for Ethics Lab and the KIE. Keep monitoring this space to see the direction our team and projects take. We’ll periodically post other ways you can get involved, but we encourage you to email us at to share innovative ideas, propose collaborations, and ask questions.

The Bioethics Research Showcase at Georgetown University is a juried exhibition of student work in a variety of categories and disciplines, situated at the intersection of the many topics in the ethics of health, the environment, and emerging technologies that comprise the field of bioethics.

This year, three submissions by students from Professors Slakey and Goldston’s Studio collaborative: Shaping National Science Policy class were submitted to the Showcase in a record breaking year for participant numbers:

Lunch Time Comics, submitted by Sana Charania, Alisha Dua, Ngozi Okaru, and Alexis Oni-Eseleh, was developed as a health literacy tool that focuses on improving the dining experience for children while also resolving a bioethical problem: health disparities.

Invasive Hitlist Volume 1: Snakehead, submitted by Caitlin Cleary, Andrew Green, Noah Martin, and Caitlin Tompkins, was designed as an innovative response to combat the growing population of invasive Northern Snakehead in the rivers surrounding Washington D.C. The booklet addresses the global challenge of invasive species, with the goal of inspiring local action and raising awareness. (2016 commendation for Literary + Creative Writing category; team pictured above.)

Efficient Transfer of Educationally Useful STEM Equipment from Federally Funded Universities to Public Schools, submitted by Alisha Dua, proposed policy that would mandate how out-of-date, but still usable, STEM equipment that is often forgotten, trashed, or sold for parts by research universities could be transferred to public schools to help improve student interest in STEM subjects and address the current issues with student retention in STEM fields at the university level.

Photos of and more information on this year’s participants can be found here.

Earlier this month we welcomed Pam Reed to the lab. Pam is an 8th grade English teacher in Columbus City Schools in Columbus, Ohio who cold emailed us after hearing about our Ethics in Action project at a conference.

We’re so glad she got in touch—it was a pleasure meeting her and we discovered together that she’s actually been giving her students design projects for years without knowing it!

Through her innovative service learning projects, Pam has pushed her students to deeply engage with their community in valuable and authentic ways. In fact, that’s why she was in DC: to receive an award for her article Flipping the Script: When Service-Learning Recipients Become Service-Learning Givers. Swapping stories about this powerful educational model was a delight.

Want to come visit us too? Get in touch.

At the end of February, core team member Nico Staple traveled to San Francisco. A highlight of the week was a “field trip” to the Exploratorium, a hands-on museum of science, art, and human perception. A focus of the visit was the museum’s Tinkering Studio, best described by the sign at its entrance:


Think with Your Hands

Making things and developing ideas by hand helps us construct understanding. Slow down, settle in, and make something personally meaningful—from playful contraptions to surprising connections between mechanical systems and natural phenomena.

Inside are custom-made tables, space dividers constructed of poster tubes, stop-action animation stations, an enormous ball maze built with only toothpicks and glue, a dedicated workshop, and much more. One of the coolest items in the Tinkering Studio is a vending machine that dispenses an assortment of crafting supplies in quantities suitable for the everyday tinkerer. As the studio says in a blog post on the machine, “Tinkering is all about using what you have around and messing about with everyday materials, but for some projects, you need a special little bit of something that is hard to find.”

Nico and team were fortunate to get a special tour of the museum by Mike Petrich, Director of the Making Collaborative. Mike explained the philosophy of the Tinkering Studio and its role in encouraging visitors to slow down and transition from the chaos and the highly stimulating main exhibit floor to engage with ideas and materials personally and in a tactile way. This sentiment is echoed in this passage from the studio’s website:

The Tinkering Studio is based on a constructivist theory of learning which asserts that knowledge is not simply transmitted from teacher to learner, but actively constructed by the mind of the learner. Later, constructionism suggested that learners are more likely to develop new insights and understandings while actively engaged in making an external artifact.

This philosophy tracks well with the studio model we use in Ethics Lab classes, where students move fluidly back and forth between raw content assimilation and creating a tangible thing that is valuable in the real world.

The lab team drew great inspiration from the Exploratorium and is eager to continue tinkering back on campus!