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First Year Students Tackle JEDI and Tech Ethics in New Living and Learning Community

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Tali Koziol Thomason

Director of Marketing, Communication, & Events

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The first year of college can be tough. Most first-year students are away from their families for the first time and adapting to the freedom and excitement of college life while still learning the ropes. Living and Learning Communities, LLCs, are a wonderful way to get the most out of the first year of school while meeting like-minded students and focusing on an area you’re passionate about.

This fall the Ritchie School at the University of Denver launches the JEDI and Technology Ethics LLC. This unique opportunity will bring together students and faculty who are passionate about justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion and technology ethics – a critical contemporary conversation. During this one year experience the students will live in adjacent rooms in the Johnson MacFarlane Residential Hall while studying together as well. This specialized ecosystem gives students a chance to engage with each other intellectually outside the classroom while cohabitating and gathering for workshops and LLC specific events.

The new LLC is the brainchild of Dr. Scott Leutenegger, Professor and JEDI Director, and Dr. Matt Gordon, Professor and Chair of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. While launching a new program on the tail of a pandemic is challenging both faculty members felt now was the ideal time.

Engineering and computing impact all of society through the products and processes we make, yet often the focus is on ‘can we make it’ and ‘how fast can we make it’, instead of ‘who will this product benefit, hurt, or leave out’,” said Dr. Leutenegger. “Given some recent spectacular failures of tech, such as facial recognition only working for light-skinned people, biased automated parole systems, and the continued automation of so many other processes, it is essential we prepare our graduates to lead in ethical computing and engineering.   The recent awakening by many to the systemic injustices in our society strengthen the awareness that future technology workers need to develop an ethical, just, equitable, and inclusive mindset with which to evaluate future products.

Dr. Gordon adds, “For centuries, engineers have argued about their role in society.  Now more than ever, I believe that to be a good engineer one must first be a good citizen.  My hope is that this LLC drives this point home.”

With this inaugural cohort of the JEDI and Technology Ethics Living and Learning Community the Ritchie School at the University of Denver hopes to inspire the next generation of global leaders to not just ask ‘Can we?’ but also, ‘Should we?’ and ‘How will the benefit be for all?’