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.

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

It’s been a busy week here at the Lab.

This Monday, four teams went through crits in Profs. Slakey, Anderson, and Dhillon’s Science and Society: Global Challenges studio course. I was invited to participate as a juror for this mid-semester crit where students formally present their minimally viable product (MVP) to their classmates, professors, and a few outside experts. This was the final (public) check-point before students pivoted and launched into the second half of the semester where they will venture outside of the classroom to consult with subject matter experts and the audience they seek to impact. But I should include the caveat that the traditional semester course is the starting point for student projects. The hope and implied expectation is that students will continue to iterate their projects and products well beyond the scope of the semester and even their time at the university. A great example of a student project that has continued beyond the classroom is the Invasive Hitlist. Read more about the project here.

First, I was deeply impressed with the range, creativity, and thoughtfulness of the student teams. The questions and comments from the jury were rapid-fire and pointed. Each student group was on the hot seat for half an hour, and I can definitively say that with the exception of the transition time between each student team, there was not a single moment of silence or lag. “Desk” or “table” internal crits (which is the form that my University as a Design Problem course took for our second interim crit this Tuesday) are more informal and conversational in tone and format, and they don’t necessarily bring in outside experts like you would find at a juried critique.

In brief, the four teams:

Team Elephant: This group is focusing on the reduction of elephant crop raids in Kenya through installation of beehive fences as outlined in the study Elephants & Bees. These beehives will, in turn, provide honey and other byproducts that the team proposes to bottle and sell in US stores and farmers markets where proceeds will then be directed back to the study and Save the Elephants fund for further expansion and growth.

Team Sex-Ed: The second team is tackling questions of sexual assault and misconduct based on the 2016 GU survey results that found that 31% of female undergraduates have experienced non-consensual sexual contact since entering Georgetown. Based on further research, they found that the best age to inculcate and influence behavior is ages 10-13. Based on that understanding, the team is focusing on creating a graphic novel or similar product that will address the societal factors that encompass sexual education and provide context and an age-appropriate medium for furthering that culture of conversation.

Team Fleece: This group honed in on the issue of microfibers (synthetics, specifically fleece) and their effect on small fish when ingested (hint: they die). To combat this issue, the team proposes to develop a finely woven mesh bag to place the fleece in during washes that will trap the approximately 1.7g of microfiber released from the washing machines during each wash cycle which will reduce the hazardous impact on the aquatic environment.

Team Prenatal: The final team is using a human-centered design process to explore the issue of insufficient prenatal care for low-income, medically under-served D.C. residents. The group, at present, intends to create some sort of field guide as informed by their expanded scope of knowledge as they tackle the issue through the design process.

Now that I’ve had the opportunity to see where the student projects are headed, I’ll be interested to loop around closer to the end of term to see the progress and pivots that happen in the second half of the term as students focus more heavily on the business end of designing for social impact. Next week, I’ll provide an update on my class, University as a Design Problem, and give you a mid-semester report on some of the key findings and commonalities our groups have uncovered.

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

This Tuesday, Ethics Lab hosted the first crits of the semester in Profs. Bass and Dhillon’s The University as a Design Problem class.

Proverbial wisdom says that one of the best ways to learn is by doing, so I decided to dive in this semester and get the full studio experience. As Ethics Lab’s new Program Manager, I could think of no better way to have an immersive and authentic learning experience than to take one of our courses end-to-end, participating fully as a student.

Before the semester started, Arjun Dhillon sat down with me to provide context and background on the evolution of “studio” and how it fit, specifically, into the portfolio of Ethics Lab, and how, more broadly, the studio ecosystem could serve as a powerful change agent within the university. I was intrigued, but I was fairly certain I was missing the nuance of what made courses delivered in studio so dynamic and impactful.

After some additional dialogue, Arjun invited me to join him and Prof. Bass in their upcoming course. It would not only allow me to tackle innovative ways to re-imagine the university learning environment through an ethics- and justice-focused lens (a favorite topic of mine), but it would also give me on-the-ground experience with one of the most vibrant and visible pieces in the Ethics Lab arsenal.

Which brings me to this Tuesday.

I had the good fortune to be partnered for project work with Stephanie Denoyer and Lilyan Tay, both graduating this spring. They’ll make frequent appearances in this blog over the course of the semester as I document my experience and give you a glimpse behind the scenes into studio, Ethics Lab, and what it means to approach, design, and envision innovative models of the undergraduate educational experience.

Stay tuned for part two where I’ll discuss our group’s first crit in detail and share some of the other initial ideas that came out of our class. It’s going to be an exciting semester; I hope you’ll follow along and see where our project and vision take us.

Fall 2016 Course Offerings

Interested in designing for the common good? Want to create a new model of learning in higher education? Here are some courses lined up this fall at Ethics Lab:

IDST-308 Foundations of Design · Arjun Dhillon: This studio-based course provides a foundation of design theory and practice that will help equip students to flourish in the emerging landscape. Students will build competency in a transdisciplinary practice of design, and they will begin to develop the dispositions, habits, modes of thinking, and ways of seeing necessary to routinely shape the world.

IDST-425 University as a Design Problem II · Arjun Dhillon + Randall Bass: This course will take on the design of a new model of learning in higher education. Using Georgetown University as our site for design and prototyping, students will pursue institutional change with a sense of urgency for the state of the world. This will be more than just an exercise; efforts here will inform the development of a new curricular program at Georgetown, and all students will be expected to contribute.

PHYS-203/PHYS-551/BIOL-261/BIOL-561: Science & Society: Global Challenges · Francis Slakey + Allyson Anderson: This seminar introduces students to some of the most significant and complex science and public interest challenges of our time including: managing a global pandemic, reducing carbon emissions, meeting growing global energy demand, and containing weapons of mass destruction.

Student accepted to prestigious summer design program

Ethics Lab student Danielle Huang was accepted to UC Berkeley’s summer course in landscape and urban design at their Center for Environmental Design (CED). The program consists of [IN]ARCH, [IN]LAND, and [IN]CITY, three introductory programs in architecture, landscape architecture and sustainable city planning for post-baccalaureate students or senior-level undergraduates, as well as [IN]ARCH ADV, an advanced studio for post-baccalaureate students who have a degree in architecture or who are senior-level architecture majors. Students in the Summer Institute explore the methods and theories of the fields, experience the culture of design and planning studios, connect to top faculty and practitioners, and build a portfolio for graduate school application.

Huang, who became interested in environmental and sustainable design while taking Arjun Dhillon’s Foundations of Design course, applied to CED in hopes of getting a better sense of what type of design she would like to pursue after her undergraduate career:

“One project that Prof. Dhillon and I would like to pursue in the upcoming school year is to build and design a tiny house,” said Huang. “I hope that at Berkeley I can further develop my visual representation skills and learn about environmental planning so that I can apply this knowledge to a sustainable, tiny house project.”

The Berkeley program offers a lecture series, a design or planning studio, a seminar or media course, and site visits, which Huang hopes to intersect with her ongoing studio experience at Ethics Lab.

“Because I am still unsure about which focus of environmental design I should pursue,” she said, “I really hope that this program will inform me on what type of graduate education I would prefer, either one in landscape or urban design. As for design thinking, I look forward to exercising my creative, problem solving skills and the opportunity to learn from my peers at Berkeley whose unique backgrounds drive their design thinking.”