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Graduate-led bioethics course wins teaching award

Cassie Herbert, a graduate student in Georgetown’s Philosophy Department, was recently awarded a Georgetown Graduate Teaching Award for her Spring 2014 course Philosophy 105: Introduction to Bioethics.

The Georgetown Graduate Teaching Awards, organized and administered by the Georgetown Graduate Student Organization, were created in 2013 to recognize exceptional teaching and mentorship by graduate students and their faculty.

Herbert’s course, offered to undergraduates, covered the foundations of philosophical bioethics and engaged key topics in the field such as euthanasia, abortion, and medical research.

Although the class was originally scheduled to meet twice-weekly with full enrollment (capped at 30), Herbert arranged to have the sessions split into two smaller sections. “This meant that the classes were small and intimate,” she explains, “and students really got to engage with each other to develop their thinking.”

The smaller class size wasn’t the only thing that differentiated this introduction to bioethics from others, though.

“While we were covering many [traditional topics], the narrative running through all these units was about challenging our conceptions of what it means to be ‘normal’ and to lead a flourishing life,” says Herbert. “Much of the course engaged with disability, race, gender, trans, and queer theories. The course was extremely discussion-driven—students shared their responses to the reading at the beginning of every class, responded to each other’s questions, and spent a lot of time working together in small groups.”

Clearly, students found it to be a powerful learning experience, and Herbert was moved to have been nominated for recognition of her work.

“I’m greatly honored that a student nominated me for this teaching award and that the committee selected me for it,” she says. “Teaching and working with students is one of the core reasons I love doing philosophy. I’m especially touched that this course stayed with a student and they continued to think of it after the course ended—this is one of the main goals I have when teaching, and it’s both exciting and humbling to learn that my course succeeded in this.”