STORY: Students Explore K-12 Outreach and Ethics in Remote Workshops

October 9, 2020

Olin students Mark Goldwater ‘21, Junwon Lee ‘21, Erika A. Serna ‘21 and Shirin Kuppusamy ’22 are organizing a remote Ethics in STEM workshop this fall for middle school and early high school students.

Goldwater, Lee, Serna and Kuppusamy were part of a group of student researchers working with Professor Sarah Spence Adams this summer to find ways in which Olin could become more involved with K-12 STEM outreach. 

Students read papers about K-12 outreach, reflected on in-person outreach experiences and participated in week-long “sprints.” One of the ideas that resulted from their research is a remote Ethics in STEM workshop targeted at middle school and early high school students. These four Oliners formed a team to refine the remote workshops during the fall semester, staying involved in outreach during the COVID-19 pandemic and exploring a collective and continuous interest in ethics. 

Shortly after the class of 2021 arrived, Prioritize Doing Good in the World was added to Olin’s Curriculum Goals and Outcomes to support the development of graduates who “…use a holistic approach that integrates diverse backgrounds, perspectives, ethics, beliefs, and values, and considers the individual, social, and environmental impacts of their decisions to produce positive transformations while minimizing unintended consequences.”  

Olin’s First Year Introduction (OFYI) inspired a lot of the Ethics in STEM teams’ thinking about how they might incorporate ethics in their K-12 outreach. As a sophomore, Goldwater developed a class that allowed Olin students to think about ethical scenarios they might encounter. This ethical mindfulness is clear in the group’s statement that “ethics always has been and is an increasingly important consideration when innovating in the space of technology.

All of those involved, regardless of field, have ethical considerations that need to be accounted for, and it is of utmost importance that the next generation of engineers and scientists have experience thinking in this space”. 

The K-12 outreach workshops mirror a real life model as ethics is universal and can be taught to any age group as long as the scenarios used are relevant to each audience. 

The virtual workshops will be set up via Zoom breakout rooms with a moderator representing different types of ethical scenarios ranging from more technologically-centered issues to social/political issues. The workshops’ set-up does not change, but the scenarios vary from educational to professional environments depending on the audience. 

In one scenario, “Hiring Committee" the workshop moderator takes on the persona of someone on a hiring committee for an engineering company who notices another interviewer asking candidates gender biased questions. Another scenario “Project in Library” features a student who needs to leave their project spread out in the library if they want to grab lunch before the school cafeteria closes. Workshop attendees have a conversation about the options a person has in each scenario and the moderator helps them consider possible consequences of each option. 

Four students, three with glasses and all smiling, shown in a screenshot from a zoom call.

The Oliners help plan the remote Ethics in STEM workshop during a Zoom call this fall.

As part of their planning this summer, the team solicited parents and teachers in the Needham community to gauge interest and gather feedback for participating in an initial test workshop on November 14 with middle school and early high school students. They received thirty-five responses from the Needham community as well as nine responses from Babson/Olin/Wellesley Three College Collaboration (BOW) students volunteering to moderate workshops. The remote workshops are developed to fit in with the needs of educators who during the COVID-19 pandemic are looking for educational resources that can seamlessly supplement curriculums without further disruption.  

Although the Ethics in Stem workshops started as a way for Olin students to remain active in K-12 outreach remotely during COVID-19 times, the team is planning for long-term engagement with K-12 students, including in-person activities once it is safe to do so. In the meantime, following the rollout of their initial November 14 workshop, the team would like to work with a variety of K-12 age groups and hold workshops in collaboration with the BOW community each semester.