A $3.6 million gift from an alumna will fund a faculty chair in ethics and expand Ethics Lab, an innovative class environment that has students engaging with ethical issues based on real-world dilemmas with complex outcomes.
Kathleen (Kathy) McNamara Hugin, a 1982 graduate of Georgetown College from Summit, New Jersey, made the generous gift to the institute with her husband, Robert (Bob).
She has served in a number of volunteer leadership roles at the university, including the board of regents, and is part of a multigenerational Georgetown family. The Hugins made the gift in memory of Kathy Hugin’s father, Francis J. McNamara, Jr., who graduated from the College in 1949 and the Law Center in 1951.
Of the $3.6 million gift, $3 million will endow a faculty chair in ethics. The balance will help develop phase two of Ethics Lab, which launched last year.
“The gift will allow Georgetown to further invest in world-class faculty—the backbone of Georgetown’s academic success,” says Maggie Little, director of the KIE. “And it advances the agile, innovative edge of a Georgetown higher education as we discover enhanced ways of learning—such as Ethics Lab—that build thoughtful and productive bridges between the academy and a world grappling with evermore complex medical and health care dilemmas.”
Hugin says the education that she and her father experienced at Georgetown “helped us think clearly and make better decisions when confronted with life’s complex issues.”
“Endowing the chair in ethics and supporting Ethics Lab will help students engage in ethical decision making, building on Georgetown’s core values and academic success,” she adds. “At the same time, phase two of KIE’s Ethics Lab will help advance new and better ways to both teach and prepare them for the complex world of the 21st century.”
“The Kennedy Institute of Ethics and its Ethics Lab are helping Georgetown to design the future of the university,” added Georgetown Provost Robert Groves. “It is visionary gifts such as the one Kathy and Bob Hugin have just made that will help propel us toward that future.”
The Ethics Lab, housed within Georgetown’s historic Healy Hall, allows students to engage in decisions of immediate consequence to their own lives. In one of Ethics Lab’s learning challenges this semester, students discussed whether or not to open the potential Pandora’s Box of information learned from personal genomic testing.
Students studied the issue with Spencer Wells, who founded the Genographic Project at National Geographic, the first wide-scale use of personal genomics to help answer fundamental questions about humanity’s origins and settlement patterns. Wells is serving as an Ethics Lab Scholar-in-Residence at Georgetown for the 2014-2015 academic year.
With the knowledge of the pros and cons of the resulting personal information, Ethics Lab students were given the opportunity to have their own genomes tested as well as, the freedom to decide whether or not to engage in the testing and exactly what to test.
This was the first step to completing their central project: designing a decision aid for next semester’s students facing the same choice.
The student projects will be shared with National Geographic at the semester’s end to contribute to that organization’s ongoing effort help their users make more informed choices.
“Ethics Lab provides students a chance to work on authentic projects, engaging with issues on an intellectual and personal level,” Little says. “They are taking risks in exploring their own beliefs and encountering the beliefs of others. We think that the direct impact will help these issues stay with students throughout their lives.”
Blake Meza (NHS’15) participated in an Ethics Lab class in the pilot year.
“I didn’t realize how much of an impact it had on me until it was all over,” he says. “My creative thinking, participation in ethical discussions, and confidence in presenting material all skyrocketed. It’s amazing how much one class can change how you view so many things.”
Thought Into Action
Hugin says the Ethics Lab will “grow this innovative academic experience that challenges students to not only think better, but also to find ways to translate thought into actions that will help people, communities and professions become more effective and caring in dealing with the opportunities and challenges of ethics today.”
Little says the gift is transformative for the Kennedy Institute.
“The institute helped to invent the field,” she says, “and this gift will help us define its potential for the next generation.”
This piece is lightly adapted from a full-length piece that ran on the Georgetown University homepage on November 18th, 2014.