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Lincoln Scholars program engages students in ethics and co-creative learning

Student profile: Double major combines passion for ethics and science, emphasizes equity for women in STEM fields

Lincoln Scholar Miriam Goras is double majoring in biochemistry and biological sciences (neurobiology, physiology and behavior).

October 12, 2021

The Arizona State University Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics encourages students from all disciplines to engage in ethical issues through its Lincoln Scholars seminars. The program awards scholarships to students who participate in a one-credit seminar that features community and ASU faculty speakers, along with interactive discussions and activities.

“We provide space for students to take on ethical topics by bringing in faculty from other fields to share their knowledge and engage students on important concepts like personal data privacy, the future of higher education, and topics close to the mission of our center like humane technology and ethical innovation,” said Sean Kenney, Lincoln Center education program manager. 

The small-group seminars encourage students to have intense conversations, explore topics outside their majors and interact directly with faculty and guests. They also teach students new ways of thinking and of asking questions, while creating a community that facilitates undergraduate research within the center.

Because the Lincoln Center believes the process of learning itself is essential to what participants can gain from the seminars, the program employs a unique learning modality. Co-creative discussions and research turn classroom experiences of participation and collaboration into vital parts of the learning process.

“We don’t want to just have students listen and take notes; we want students to learn from their peers through the inherent knowledge each person brings to the table,” Kenney said.

The emphasis on a co-creative approach offers students a learning modality that differs from traditional learning styles. Instead of a lecture-based program, the students’ life experiences and inherent, personal knowledge generate conversations and lead to discoveries.

The Lincoln Scholars program attracts students of diverse beliefs, cultures and values who share a commitment to understanding and bettering their communities. 

Lincoln Scholar Miriam Goras exemplifies this commitment while studying abroad in Germany with the department of molecular neurobiology at the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, conducting research on sphingomyelin synthase inhibitors and their ability to induce controlled autophagy in vitro. She is passionate about equity in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), especially when it comes to representation of women. Goras answered a few questions about her interests and engagement with the Lincoln Scholars program:

Question: What is your major, and what inspired you to choose this educational path?

Answer: I am a biochemistry and biological sciences (neurobiology, physiology and behavior) double major. Arriving at ASU I knew I loved biology, but I had never taken a chemistry class before. With a bit of trepidation, I signed up for an introductory chemistry class, mostly because it was a prerequisite for a cell biology class. I ended up loving it! I felt so simultaneously challenged and supported, and doing chemistry became a part of my daily routine. It was just as, if not more, difficult as I had expected, but I never felt like I was on my own. In the summer after my sophomore year, I started researching in a molecular neuroscience lab at the Biodesign Institute. In the lab, I met biochemistry students who eagerly described the major to me and encouraged me to consider it.

A great thing I love about double majoring is that I get the resources and the support of two great departments — School of Life Sciences and School of Molecular Sciences; that’s double the professors I can meet! I have had the privilege of being fully immersed in the research world at ASU. I have been working with Professor Paul Coleman since the summer after my sophomore year at ASU. In his lab, I study nuclear pore complex dysfunction in Alzheimer’s disease. Doing research at ASU has made me excited for the future research I’ll do in graduate school and in my career. It’s a bit daunting to see how much has already been discovered, and yet there is much more to be discovered and understood. Nevertheless, I’m confident I’ll leave ASU prepared to face the world of molecular anomalies and make impactful research discoveries.

Q: What motivated you to join the Lincoln Scholars program?

A: My desire to explore interdisciplinary approaches to learning and problem-solving is what inspired me to join this program. I entered college with the mindset that there is a methodical, structured approach to get to a solution. However, as my mentors, seminars and internships have taught me, creative problem-solving is nonlinear and there is tremendous value to interdisciplinary collaboration. Interactions with students from diverse disciplines will challenge me to engage in strategic thinking associated with interdisciplinary learning and channel my scientific curiosity into the development of thorough and integrative solutions.

Q: Students in the Lincoln Scholar program come from various academic disciplines. Does engaging in ethical discussions with diverse groups of people lend a new perspective to your studies?

A: As a scientist, my values and subjectivity inevitably affect my work. However, taking part in ethical discourse will allow me to become aware of my personal biases and identify gaps in my ethical decision-making process in research. Thinking critically about ethical norms will prompt me to examine the aims of my research and determine my responsibilities as a researcher. Recognizing that scientific progress is rooted in creative ethical inquiry, I believe that having my perspective challenged will strengthen the connection between discovery at the bench and innovation in the real world.

Q: In your Lincoln Scholars application, you indicated a passion for equity in STEM, especially the representation of women in STEM. Could you share with us a little about that?

A: Growing up, I did not have many female role models in STEM as most of my math and science teachers were men. While I did have strong females in my life, it was still difficult to envision myself working in male-dominated fields of STEM. Few women pursue a career in chemistry-related fields for this exact reason — the lack of female role models working in STEM. With that in mind, I took it upon myself to show young females that pursuing this career is very much an option for them.

I started small by becoming a member of Education for Humanity, where I mentor younger female college students that are in STEM to help them navigate their way through their college endeavors. As I proceeded through my college career, I was named a SOLUR undergraduate research fellow, allowing me to further prioritize my outreach efforts. I participate in a variety of educational outreach programs to get the younger public excited about recent science and biochemical breakthroughs. As one of my volunteering programs, I will be returning to my high school and giving talks to students about my research and pursuing a career in STEM. My goal with this program and my other outreach involvement is to be the role model to young females who may be struggling the same way I was as I was beginning my career in STEM.

Applications for the Lincoln Scholars program will open in late spring 2022. Learn more about the program and its students.

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