Aaron Johnson and Mackenzie Warwick receiving the MLK spirit award

NERS and AERO discussion series wins MLK Spirit Award

The MARS Dialogues discuss the “Macroethical Responsibility to Society.”

The second installment of the MARS Dialogues series has received a North Campus Deans’ MLK Spirit Award in the Activism, Awareness, and Organization category. The dialogues were a thought-provoking initiative held over the 2023 fall semester and led by PhD student Mackenzie Warwick and Prof. Aditi Verma from NERS, along with AERO Prof. Aaron Johnson and Engineering Education Research PhD student Elizabeth Strehl.

The inaugural MARS Dialogues series, themed “Macroethics—Aerospace’s Responsibility to Society,” sparked conversations among students, faculty, and staff. Addressing topics like space settlement, climate change, and diversity representation in aerospace, the discussions aimed to challenge ingrained narratives and assumptions within the aerospace engineering community.

The second installment of MARS Dialogues, held over the Fall 2023 semester, evolved its acronym to stand for “Macroethics: Addressing our Responsibility to Society.” This shift underscores a broader commitment to exploring collective societal impacts, pushing beyond individual or organizational considerations.

Recognizing the absence of courses dedicated to discussing the macro-ethics of the field, Warwick, alongside alumni Stephanie Miller (NERS PhD ’23) and Jenny Smith (NERS PhD student), identified critical topics that demanded attention. Following widespread student demand and recommendations from the NERS Advisory Board, Verma created a new course on Nuclear Technology, Policy, and Society (NERS 490) that engages with ethics and justice questions as they relate to nuclear technology and created and taught a second new course on Socially Engaged Design of Nuclear Technologies (ENGR100.910), co-taught with Katie Snyder from the Program in Technical Communication. Nevertheless, an opportunity remained for the NERS community – students, staff, and faculty – to discuss the ethical implications of nuclear technologies in the department. This led to NERS partnering with AERO to co-host the MARS dialogues.

“Last semester (Fall 2023), we explored environmental justice, where NERS delved into the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, addressing ongoing discussions on radioactive wastewater discharge,” said Warwick. “Additionally, our focus on decolonization brought attention to the appropriation of Indigenous lands for uranium mining and weapons manufacturing, specifically exemplified by the Hanford site. Within the context of decolonization, crucial questions emerged about the decision-making processes and who holds the authority to make such impactful decisions.”

Beyond their focus on macroethical responsibilities, the MARS Dialogues emphasize the significance of values-based engineering. In an era where engineering education increasingly emphasizes the societal impacts of technology, this initiative aims to shape the next generation of nuclear and aerospace engineers. The collaboration between NERS and AERO serves as a model for fostering awareness, dialogue, and understanding of societal responsibilities within the broader engineering community.

The Activism, Awareness, and Organization Award bestowed upon the MARS Dialogues recognizes their exemplary commitment to social justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion. The award aligns with the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., reflecting the initiative’s dedication to addressing the root causes of social injustice.

As Mackenzie Warwick and Prof. Aaron Johnson accepted the award, they symbolized the collective effort and vision that has propelled the MARS Dialogues into the forefront of discussions on macroethical responsibility in both aerospace and nuclear engineering. This acknowledgment reinforces the initiative’s vital role in fostering a more socially just and equitable future in the fields of nuclear and aerospace engineering.

The MARS Dialogues will continue this semester (Winter 2024) and discussions will be centered around the heavily intertwined topics of the military-industrial complex, moral disengagement, and organizing. More info here.

The M.A.R.S. Dialogues are sponsored by the College of Engineering DEI Faculty Grant Program.

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