Undergraduate Student Fellows

Undergraduate Student Fellows

Students in the College of the Liberal Arts’ Paterno Fellows Program are eligible to apply for a Rock Ethics Institute Undergraduate Fellowship. These awards are for undergraduate students working on ethics-related topics and research either within or in preparation for their honors theses.

Rock Ethics Institute Paterno Fellows will work closely with and assist Institute faculty on interdisciplinary ethics projects. Some projects focus on research, while others focus on developing programming and networks related to ethics at Penn State.

Students selected for a semester-long fellowship will receive a $1,000 award and those selected for a yearlong fellowship will receive a $2,000 award.

Call for Applications

All current Paterno Fellows are eligible to apply. Applicants must select only one project to apply to and submit the following materials in application:

  1. Cover letter (one page) that indicates which fellowship you are applying to, why it interests you, your relevant qualifications, and how you would contribute to the project
  2. Résumé/CV

Note: fellowship (7) requires additional materials and fellowship (2) suggests additional materials.

Please send application materials in a single PDF to btj7@psu.edu. The deadline to apply is 5:00pm EDT on Friday, September 11, 2020. Applicants will be notified on whether they were selected later in September. If you have questions about the fellowship or application process, please contact Ben Jones at btj7@psu.edu.

2020–2021 Fellowship Offerings

Faculty Supervisor: Professor of Management and Organization Forrest Briscoe

This project will examine how employees are reacting to new benefits that companies are implementing to address the public health needs of their workforces and communities. Some potential new employee benefits directly relate to COVID-19 (e.g. virus testing and immunity passports, potentially linked to determining an employee’s work assignments), while others would be broader (e.g. genetic testing that covers virus susceptibilities as well as other common and rare diseases, including mental health conditions).

The project will design and implement a survey to assess how people may react to these new benefits, and to further capture how they could affect the labor market. Using an experimental design, we will attempt to measure the value that employees place on different benefits that are provided by their employer. Previous research on employee benefits often assumes new benefits are broadly valued and will help attract and retain the most talented workers. Some benefits are valued more by certain groups of workers (e.g. flexible schedules are especially valued by employees who are new parents). For the new public-health benefits, employees may perceive new risks (e.g. privacy risks and discrimination risks) as well as new advantages. In addition, the new benefits may be perceived and valued differently by some groups of employees—like those with pre-existing health concerns, or those from communities of color. If such groups of employees do value these benefits differently, the adoption of the benefits could indirectly create a “disparate impact” bias in the labor market.

For the project, a Rock Ethics Institute Undergraduate Fellow would help with all aspects of the design and implementation of the survey. This would entail significant work, including independent work with an online survey system (probably Qualtrics). The ideal candidate would be eager to learn new things, interested in the topic of workplace ethics, comfortable with computers, and have a knowledge of basic statistics. The project likely would culminate in the publication of a research article. For example, during the 2018–2019 academic year, Professor Briscoe worked with a student on a related survey published here: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0229044.

Faculty Supervisor: Assistant Professor of Psychology Daryl Cameron

The Empathy and Moral Psychology (EMP) Lab studies why and how people have empathy for others and make moral decisions. Recently, the lab has been examining the question of how empathy relates to social distancing and prosocial behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic, funded by the Huck Life Sciences Institute’s seed funding program. Through the Rock Ethics Institute, the EMP Lab also organized the Expanding Empathy speaker series which included a session on empathy and COVID-19. For this Fellowship, Dr. Cameron is looking for a highly motivated undergraduate to collaborate with one or more EMP Lab members to examine the relationship between empathy and moralization with regards to public health behaviors during the pandemic (e.g., mask-wearing). The Fellow will be expected to meet regularly with Dr. Cameron and attend weekly lab meetings over Zoom, and work collaboratively with undergraduate research assistants and graduate students.

Note: though not required, applicants are welcome to submit a writing sample and faculty references with their application.

Faculty Supervisor: Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology Robert Chiles

In order to better understand how future agri-food and technology pathways are being actively contested in the aftermath of the 2020 crises, this project involves discourse analysis of key food system actors, tech optimists, and their critics. Our research questions are as follows: First, what discourses are food system experts and tech experts using to make sense of and rearticulate the meaning, significance, and ethical implications of coronavirus, the economic crisis, and racial unrest? Second, what are the implications of these discourses and their institutional/material enactments with respect to food security, food sovereignty, and food justice proponents?

A Rock Ethics Institute Undergraduate Fellow would help finish this study. The project was launched by Professor Chiles and graduate student Francisco Alfredo Reyes. There has been significant progress on the project (research outline completed, several pages of literature review completed, data collected) but several hundred articles still need to be analyzed. Alfredo has offered to help train the new undergraduate fellows in the data analysis, at which point they would be able to work independently at their own pace. Provided that the work is put in, the fellow would absolutely be added as a co-author to the resulting publication. There may also be an opportunity for continued collaboration.

Faculty Supervisor: Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences Jeremy Engels

When Eric Garner was killed by police, his last words became the slogan of a movement for racial justice and social change: I Can’t Breathe. These words have additional resonance during a pandemic outbreak of a virus that affects the lungs, and as wildfires stoked by global warming torch the Western United States, turning the air acrid and unbreathable. Each crisis—systemic racism, the pandemic, and global warming—is also a crisis of breathing. The question of the breath is at the center ethical inquiry in the Anthropocene, or so Professor Engels plans to argue in a new book project. This new book, The Philosophy of Breathing, hopes to center breathing at the heart of ethical inquiry. It will offer a cultural and political history of breathing, and a philosophy of breathing that uses the breath as an opportunity to contemplate interconnectedness with the human and natural world. The breath can help to revitalize the promise of democratic politics. A Rock Ethics Institute Undergraduate Fellow would help with research for the project, specially helping to recover the breathing discourse related to current racial justice protests, the pandemic, and the wildfires out West.

Faculty Supervisor: Assistant Director of Bioethics Program Michele Mekel

Until a vaccine and/or effective treatment(s) are found and widely available, the spread of the coronavirus offers a unique opportunity to gather the lived experiences of a pandemic in real time. Through the ongoing, web-based Viral Imaginations: COVID-19 project, launched in April 2020, an interdisciplinary team of Penn State faculty and students has been actively soliciting and collecting artistic, literary, and interpretive responses to the pandemic in order to record, archive, and exhibit provider, patient, and public reactions from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The Viral Imaginations endeavor highlights deep ethical concerns raised by COVID-19, including: (a) the allocation of scarce, life-saving medical resources and protective equipment; (b) the inherent moral injury experienced by front-line health providers; (c) the role of provider conscientious objection; and (d) reactions to the social contract related to distancing and masking protocols. By creating an outlet for personal reflection, the project enables providers, patients, and the public to process their experiences, and by curating and making these expressive accounts available, health professionals, policy makers, and scholars—including the Penn State faculty involved with Viral Imaginations—will have access to a bank of personal chronicles with which to analyze this pandemic and the management thereof through a narrative ethics framework.

This endeavor, available at viralimaginations.psu.edu, has already received substantial, positive media attention and nearly 200 submissions. The next step, which is now commencing, is to explore and expand the ethical and humanistic conceptualization of the effects of pandemic illness on our communities through the development of scholarship based on the themes and perspectives emerging from the archive. To that end, a dedicated Rock Ethics Institute Undergraduate Fellow would be an ideal fit for both the project and the student. 

Faculty Supervisor: Associate Professor Education Deborah Schussler

Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have emerged as a means for reducing stress and improving psychological well-being and have gained popularity as a specific kind of social-emotional learning (SEL) program in K-12 school settings. Most research on MBIs focuses on outcome measures, leaving the “active ingredients” producing those outcomes largely unaddressed. In addition, few studies assess basic program implementation quality, including the competencies required of the facilitator. Through a College of Education internal grant, this project currently is conducting an in-depth analysis of the curricula on MBIs designed for K-12 school settings (n=12). Its goals are to: 1) identify the core components of each MBI curriculum at development levels offered (e.g., pre-K, K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-12), 2) examine the relationship between MBI core components, contextual/sociocultural factors, and intervention outcomes, 3) analyze the training, support, and resources for MBI facilitators to implement the curriculum with fidelity. We would like to extend this research and also assess the ethical underpinnings of each curriculum. MBIs have been criticized for promoting religious principles, yet many programs have extricated ethical/moral/philosophical overtones in an attempt to present as secular and thus, more palatable in a universal school context. For example, the Mind Up curriculum emphasizes its foundations in neuroscience and executive function research. Yet, embedded within the construct of mindfulness are ethical principles, including compassion to self, others, and society, interdependence of all sentient beings, and mindful action. The SEE (Social Emotional Ethical) Learning program explicitly highlights their foundational grounding in secular ethics, as described by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

A Rock Ethics Institute Undergraduate Ethics Fellow would not only have the opportunity to work on the analysis for this project and manuscripts related to it (likely outlets include Journal of Moral Education and Mindfulness), there would also be opportunities for multiple levels of mentoring, from the faculty supervisor, the PhD student working on the project, and a recent PhD graduate (and newly minted Assistant Professor) who is also working on the analysis. Furthermore, the hope is for the student to attend at least part of a conference October 8–9 on “Improving the Science of Mindfulness-based Interventions for Children and Youth.”

Faculty Supervisor: Assistant Professor of Telecommunications Yael Warshel

This project explores how media may be used to play meaningful roles in the lives of young people in conflict zones. Given that demographically, children and youth are most impacted by armed conflict, the initiative focuses on exploring best practices for using media (as artifact, intervention, and content) to aid and empower them. Selected Fellows will work in the Children, Media and Conflict Zones Lab. Involvement in the lab will provide opportunities to learn about major debates surrounding refugee youth, educational access, social media, communication rights, public opinion, social-psychological and biological effects, and understanding about and practice in research methods. Separate of that, there may also be opportunities to become involved in public outreach. Promising applicants will be called in for a Zoom interview.

In greater detail, selected applicants will assist with projects exploring (1) the role media may play in helping or empowering children and youth in conflict zones internationally, (2) how Sahrawi refugee youth, specifically, use media technologies to navigate their education, displacement, and the Western Sahara conflict within global human rights-based contexts, and/or (3) how media interventions influence conflict zones and/or refugee children’s political opinions, inter-group attitudes, and/or age them biologically. Fellows will analyze secondary literature and related statistical data to provide theoretical frameworks and background for these various lab projects, including to situate primary data. Literature to be analyzed include (1) comparative international, global, conflict, gender, family, youth and children studies, to map theoretical frameworks and promote policy and practice about young people, media and international and global conflict, (2) education, media, technology and communication rights, to be used for situating educational, lifestyle, and media-use decisions made by Sahrawi refugee youth, and/or (3) inter-group communication and psychological and biological stress, to quantify the long-term biological effects of growing-up refugee. RAs fluent in Spanish, Arabic or French, may be asked to read relevant academic literature in their respective languages and synthesize into English. Those fluent in Spanish and/or Arabic may also be asked to (4) work with primary data collection, e.g. by assisting with translation and transcription of previously conducted interviews with Sahrawis and by helping to conduct future interviews. Finally, RAs may be asked to (5) coordinate lab meetings and/or events to promote policy-relevant outreach.

Required Skills: Excellent (1) English writing and editing skills, (2) organizational skills, (3) ability to understand academic articles and summarize them in written form, and (4) ability to search Online library and other databases and synthesize relevant information retrieved.

Additional preferred skills in one or all of the following: (1) fluency in Spanish, Arabic and/or French (2) ability to make sense of and manipulate basic statistical data, (3) excellent video editing skills, preferably in Final Cut Pro, (4) prior transcription experience, (5) prior translation experience, (6) prior coordination, outreach and/or event planning experience, and (7) background in international affairs, global studies, area studies, political science, ethics, education, geography, communication/s, psychology, anthropology, and/or biology.

To Apply: Please send: (1) short statement of interest, (2) CV, (3) Fall 2020 and projected Spring 2021 course schedule (4) (unofficial) transcript, (5) names of 2–3 faculty references, and (6) one writing sample (this will be used to assess relevant secondary research, reading and writing skills. Writing sample subject matter is not important)

Current Undergraduate Student Fellows

Public Relations and Spanish
Film Production, English, and Jewish Studies
English and Psychology
Political Science, Philosophy, and Sociology
Global and International Studies, Latin American Studies, Labor and Employment Relations, and Spanish 
Global and International Studies and Japanese
International Politics
International Politics
Human Development and Family Studies
Criminology and Public Policy
Russian and International Politics
Psychology and Labor and Human Resources