The way Ben Howe sees it, the Seattle U Ethics Bowl team he coaches that finished #6 in the nation this year is a great achievement—but not the be-all and end-all.
“It’s great that we have done well but the most amazing thing is the research the students do and the educational opportunities they are given,” says Howe, a senior instructor of philosophy and acting associate director of the Matteo Ricci Institute.
Howe is passionate about the doors that have opened to Ethics Bowl team members, including fellowships, independent study projects and research.
“If you’re in it for the long game, it’s better to build a program that can serve our students’ educational goals,” he says.
And this philosophy has served team members well.
Take Tatianah Summers, sophomore biology major with a double minor in philosophy and ethics, who will begin a paid fellowship this summer at the University of Washington Center for Neurotechnology. Summers learned of the opportunity after meeting UW Philosophy Professor Sara Goering at a mock Ethics Bowl competition where Goering was a judge. Summers will be working in a research experience undergraduate position.
“It is a 10-week program and I get to work on a personal research project which will culminate with a presentation at the end of the summer,” said Summers. “Their lab works on looking at the intersection of science and ethics and why it's important to always be critically observing those relationships.”
Graduating senior and Philosophy and English major Margaret Roberts, who participated on the team for one year, obtained two prestigious fellowships this summer, one at the Abigail Adams Institute in Cambridge, Mass., followed by a John Jay Fellowship in Philadelphia. The John Jay fellowship is intended to prepare participants for careers in public service, whether they take shape in the public, nonprofit or for-profit spheres.
“My background in ethics bowl helped make me uniquely situated for this fellowship and was a key talking point in the interview process,” says Roberts.
Two other Ethics Bowl members, juniors Samantha Fisher (Computer Science) and Serena Oduro, (History) are doing summer programs and conducting independent study projects on applied ethics
During her freshman year Oduro did a Fulbright Summer Institute and this summer is going to Poland with Community in Action for a month-long fellowship to increase transnational conversations about human rights and development of democracy.
“The skills from Ethics Bowl definitely helped me with it,” she says. Fisher will be doing a summer internship at Microsoft working on a product with the education team there. “A lot of the skills Ethics Bowl gave me were helpful with the interview process and more specifically in focusing my interests on an area of the technology industry where I felt I could have the most positive impact,” says Fisher.
According to Howe, “The multidisciplinary research that is done under the rubric of ‘applied ethics’ is socially valuable because it creates a discourse and body of research that can illuminate longstanding problems in our society and fill policy vacuums created by new technologies, environmental changes and political discord.”
For example, said Howe, a case at the national competition that teams tackled, sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), concerned difficult questions about how society will have to adjust in order to cope with an increasingly elder population and an economy that, according to many economists, will have fewer job opportunities due to efficiencies created by AI.
“In short, I suspect that the policy folks at AARP realize that people who are in college today will face a very different kind of retirement scenario than the sort for which social security was designed,” Howe says.
Ethics Bowl students often study a topic months or years before it hits the mainstream news cycle. “For example, we studied intersex athletes before Caster Semenya’s story, we worked on Facebook privacy issues two years before we started reading about it in the New York Times and we studied felon voting rights before Florida’s ballot initiative,” Howe says.
The team did very well this academic year, finishing as runner-up at the Northwest Regional Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, which earned the team a spot to the national competition, last November. It finished sixth place overall at the National Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl in Baltimore in early March during the annual meeting of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics.
The nationals put the teams in front of major sponsors, including AARP and the federal Office of Research Integrity. Last month, the team had an opportunity to experience firsthand the inner workings of a topic that they’ve tackled—criminal justice, specifically, incarceration. The SU team joined the UW Ethics Bowl team for an ethics bowl event for college students at the Washington Correction Center for Women in Gig Harbor. The students participate in the Freedom Education Project Puget Sound.
“This was an absolutely amazing experience as I got to interact with a population that very few have the privilege of encountering,” says Summers. Howe says the opportunity for students to participate in Ethics Bowl and the sort of multidisciplinary research that it demands underscores the value of the Jesuit approach to education.
“One of the things that distinguishes Jesuit universities from non-Jesuit schools is the fact that Jesuit schools still require students to take a robust Core Curriculum. Moreover, Jesuit universities also require students to take classes that require them to think critically about questions of justice and ethics,” he says.
Howe says he looks for students who know their majors well, but who also have a broad education that allows them to take their specialized knowledge from their major and connect it to other fields. Says Howe, “Our team does well because we have philosophy majors who know about science and science majors who know about philosophy.”
Wrestling with the kinds of cases that are featured in Ethics Bowl also shows students that a broad, Jesuit education is practical. All of the major issues that we face in society require input from many different fields. Thinking about climate change policy, for example, requires knowledge of climate science, economics and law. And, if you want to think about which policy options are more just, you need some training in ethics, or at least know about competing conceptions of justice.
Looking ahead, the university’s Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture (ICTC) awarded Howe one of its Course Development Summer Stipend Initiative grants. These grants encourage the development of undergraduate and graduate courses concerned with, or connected to, Catholic thought and culture in order to increase student engagement with Catholic ideas, issues and applications in a variety of disciplines.
“Ben’s excellent proposal was exactly on target since his course will utilize resources from the tradition of Catholic social teaching to work out complex ethical issues on the debating platform,” says Patrick Howell, S.J., interim director of ICTC. “Additionally, he already has a superb track record with his previous teams and competitive meets.”
Photo: Ethics Bowl team members and their coach. Bottom row, left to right: Aryon Shahidzadeh, Ben Howe (coach), John Gavin Top row, left to right: Caroline Lambert, Tatianah Summers, Margaret Roberts, Samantha Fisher, Serena Oduro Not pictured: Adina Van Etten