Ph.D. Student Leah Kaplan Examines an Engineer's Role in Professional Ethics at FASPE Program

April 27, 2023

Ph.D. student Leah Kaplan

Congratulations to Systems Engineering Ph.D. student, Leah Kaplan, on being selected as a 2023 Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE) fellow! FASPE is an intensive study program in ethical leadership that offers fellows the opportunity to spend two weeks in Germany and Poland, where they will visit key sites of Nazi history and participate in daily seminars led by specialized faculty.

On her selection, Kaplan stated, “I am honored to have been selected as a Design & Technology fellow and to be joining the FASPE community, which cares deeply about advancing high ethical standards in the fields of business, journalism, law, medicine, seminary, and design & technology. I hope to learn more about the ways in which my decisions and actions as a researcher and engineer may have unintended ethical consequences and how I can better promote ethics within my professional field.”

There are six programs within FASPE for students and early-career professionals to apply to. The Design and Technology Program begins by examining the actions and choices of technologists and designers in enabling and executing Nazi policies. It challenges fellows to recognize their roles as designers of the built environment themselves and to confront the ethical issues they are facing as architects, engineers, designers, and other technologists today.

FASPE Design and Technology Fellows will examine topics such as: 

  • The complicity of German and other technologists in the design and development of the policies of National Socialism
  • Where this profession - Design and Technology - and its professionals can be viewed as morally neutral, i.e., do they have a duty beyond competence and problem-solving
  • The ethical challenge of ambition in professional development
  • Ethics in government, non-profit, and for-profit computing
  • Legal ethics in the context of technological innovations
  • Tactics to address ethical issues within tech companies, architecture firms, engineering environments, and other institutions

“I applied to the FASPE Design and Technology program as an opportunity to challenge my assumptions about science and technology ethics and to consider technology design from a global context. I believe this experience will not only strengthen my doctoral research, but also offer lessons and experiences that I can carry with me into my postdoctoral career,” Kaplan said.

FASPE continues this program because they believe professionals have an increasingly important role in addressing current ethical challenges in the professions that are arising from globalization and rapidly changing technology. Kaplan’s dissertation work is the perfect example as she is investigating the potential societal impacts of automated vehicles (AVs), with an emphasis on equity and labor. 

“Automated vehicles have the potential to revolutionize our transportation system. I believe it is critical to proactively think about the ethical implications of how AVs might impact society so that we can better leverage this emerging technology for the benefit of, rather than detriment to, society,” Kaplan said.

“The FASPE Fellowship is a remarkably unique program to dedicate the time and effort to seriously study professional ethics and ethical leadership. As a Systems Engineering Ph.D. student studying the equity and labor impacts of autonomous vehicles (AVs), Leah is exceptionally qualified for this program. I am excited for what she will take back from the program, and I am excited that she will be representing GW Engineering and bringing her expertise to the table in the conversations she has with other FASPE fellows,” Kaplan’s advisor Professor John Helveston agreed. “I cannot express enough how important it is that engineers be trained in ethics and ethical leadership, especially as new technologies based on artificial intelligence continue to accelerate. I hope more GW Engineering students can have experiences like these.”