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Michigan State UniversityLyman Briggs College

MSU Researchers Receive Grant for Ethics Education Project

A team of multidisciplinary MSU researchers has received a 3-year grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for $196,759. The team, which consists of Dr. Michael O’Rourke, Dr. Thomas Dietz, Dr. Kyle Whyte, and Lyman Briggs Professor, Dr. Sean Valles, will lead the project, “Collaborative Research: Values and Policy in Interdisciplinary Environmental Science: A Dialogue-based Framework for Ethics Education.” This project addresses the lack of ethics education materials in interdisciplinary environmental science programs (IESPs).

The team has observed that the number and variety of IESPs has increased quickly, but that there are few ethics education materials available for graduate courses in IESPs. Students in these programs are preparing to work in fields such as environmental management or environmental policy, but they may not be prepared for the ethical dilemmas they will encounter in their careers.


Through their grant, the researchers seek to increase the ethics understanding of graduate students in IESPs. They will develop a flexible curricular framework on ethics that instructors can adopt for use in a variety of interdisciplinary courses. The framework will engage students in an analysis of their own values and of the ethical dilemmas facing today’s scientists and policymakers.


The material will give students “opportunities to construct their own knowledge, share ideas, and critique others’ ideas,” explains Dr. Valles. Students will explore questions such as “Do values negatively influence scientific research?” and “What ethical obligations do scientists have to discuss their work and its policy implications with stakeholders and citizens?”


The researchers hope that as a result of these discussions, graduate students in IESPs will “have a more rich understanding of the ethical issues they will encounter in their profession.”


The team is currently conducting interviews to get a sense of the understanding of ethics among graduate students in IESPs. Over the next 3 years, they will create their curricular framework and test the material in several courses at Michigan State University and the University of Idaho.


The curricular framework will be made available to educators through the Ethics Online Resource Center.