Ethics in action: How do you solve a real-world ethical dilemma?

Hundreds of area high school students recently gathered to examine hot-button issues at Rotary’s Ethics Symposium.

Dane County students from 19 high schools participated in the Rotary Club of Madison’s 13th Annual Ethics Symposium March 1 at the Monona Terrace. Students learned about finding ethical solutions to complicated problems such as bullying and cheating.

Rotary organized the day to provide hands-on experience with professionals that gets students involved and motivates them to interact with their peers.

The symposium is designed to engage students in discussions about ethical issues that occur in everyday life. High school juniors examined the importance of ethics and took part in decision-making exercises designed to prompt debate and introspection.

Implementing ethical ideas at school

This year’s symposium reflected many changes that were in the planning stages over the past year.        

Dora Zuniga, the 2013 Ethics Symposium chair and the executive director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Dane County, explained, “This year’s symposium was 180 degrees different than in years past due to a new curriculum that directly impacted the students. They are now working on projects at their school to implement what they learned at the symposium.”

Denis Collins, a professor of business at Edgewood College, helped revamp the curriculum that had been used in past years.

Previously, students assessed hypothetical ethical dilemmas in a wide range of topics. This year, they discussed ethical situations that pertained to “their world” – issues they come across at their schools.

There was another important difference this year. Zuniga said the students are charged with coming up with a project after the conference that addresses an ethical issue on their home school’s turf.

Each school will send a report to the Rotary Club of Madison by May 31 outlining how its project dealt with real-world ethics.

Rotary will select three projects that had the most positive impact on the school community. Representatives from these schools will be invited to a Rotary meeting in the fall to share what they learned.

“We don’t know how they will tackle these projects, but the students have shown tremendous enthusiasm for making these projects real-world ‘teachable moments,’” said Zuniga. She added, “This is an exciting opportunity for students to ‘get it right’ at this stage of their lives – to learn about ethical problems and then help solve them.”

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