Ethics in Action: STEM for Humanity 2019

Ethics in Action: STEM for Humanity concentrated on engineering for the differently-abled. Participants collaborated with differently-abled young adults to develop a product to enhance the lives of students and teachers at ECLC of New Jersey in Chatham. The nonprofit works with some 900 students and adults with special needs, and operates schools in Chatham and Ho-Ho-Kus for students ages 5 through 21, along with adult day centers and employment services.

“The focus in much of education today is STEM and innovation,” said Dr. Karen Rezach, Director of the Ethics Institute at Kent Place School. “The skills needed for these disciplines are critically important for students to learn; however, we feel strongly that students must also understand the ethical issues involved in designing a new product that could benefit members of society. Engineering always begins with empathy, but ethical engineering also takes into account the user, the values, the outcomes –– intended and unintended –– and the potential impact of the product in the future.”

Participants learned from experts in the fields of design, engineering, computer science, ethics, and occupational therapy, and had the opportunity to use state-of-the-art engineering tools and technology.

“I loved finding ways to use innovation to help better people’s lives,” said Natasha Wan, a rising junior at Kent Place School. “It was inspiring to be able to make something, test it, and have it actually work.”

Throughout the two weeks, participants were encouraged to reflect critically on concepts of empathy and autonomy in discussions about how differently-abled people are treated within society and how things should change. Tough questions and ethical values guided their work as they collaborated with the ECLC students and teachers. They enhanced their STEM-literacy skills by using the various resources in Kent Place School’s Innovation Lab. As they began to identify a need with the ECLC students, they also learned how to use the laser cutter, 3D printers, P*5 coding language, woodshop tools, and littleBits electronic building materials.

“I’m proud that Kent Place School is able to offer meaningful pathways into, around, and through STEM,” said Dr. Evelyn Laffey, Kent Place School STEM Innovation Chair and lead teacher for the program. “I was impressed by the students’ creativity, innovation, troubleshooting skills, and ability to apply their science and math content knowledge to their various projects.”

On the first day, students met and talked with Mindy Scheier, founder and president of Runway of Dreams Foundation. In 2014, Ms. Scheier took a kitchen-table project — altering clothes for her son with muscular dystrophy — and transformed it into a nonprofit organization working toward a future of inclusion, acceptance, and opportunity in the fashion industry for people with disabilities. In collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger, in 2016, she launched the first adaptive kids collection. Her story was a source of inspiration for the participants, who saw how thoughtful innovation can make an enormous difference in the world.

“I was honored to be a part of the 2019 Ethics in Action summer program,” said Ms. Scheier. “After seeing the students’ presentations, I was impressed with their projects and empathic understanding of people living with disabilities.”

The program integrated two core field trips to enrich the students’ final prototypes. During the first week, participants went to New York City to visit the Adaptive Design Association, where they learned how to design and engineer for differently-abled people with everyday materials, such as cardboard. In the second week, they went to Princeton University. There they learned from Dr. Aatish Bhatia about the ethical issues involved in computer science and took a tour of various maker spaces and engineering labs on campus.

“I really value all the people I met and all the places we went to,” said Christina Jong, a rising sophomore at Kent Place School. “All of these experiences will make me a better ethical and STEM thinker. I’m very glad that this program enabled me to open those doors.”

The program culminated in a prototype launch, during which participants talked about what it was like to invent a product for the ECLC school using the human-centered design process with an ethical lens.

Allison Clemens, assistant principal of the ECLC school, said she found the collaboration rewarding: “The students of ECLC, and all students with various abilities, will benefit from the designs the students at Kent Place School created. We hope to continue this partnership with Kent Place, as our students enjoy making new friendships and engaging with their new peers.”

The program will run again in the summer of 2020, with a different theme, and is open to all interested high school students. For more information, please email ethics@kentplace.org or visit www.kentplace.org/ethics.
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The Ethics Institute at Kent Place School is a first-of-its-kind institute at the primary and secondary school level. We believe that promoting the process and practice of ethical thinking and decision-making prepares people of all ages to be effective leaders and compassionate citizens.

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