Sarah Van Wart

Curriculum Innovation Award, 2020

Sarah Van Wart, Assistant Professor of Computer Science, McCormick School of Engineering

“Encouraging students to critically engage with contemporary ethical challenges in computing”

Sepehr Vakil and Van Wart will develop an ethics course for undergraduate Computer Science majors. This course will provide students with the opportunity to consider the social implications of computing technologies, and the far-reaching, unintended consequences these systems might have.

The goal of this course will be to provoke and inspire students to critically engage with contemporary ethical challenges in computing. Students will analyze case studies of current and enduring socio-technical dilemmas such as bias in algorithms, surveillance technologies, applications of facial recognition technologies, privacy breaches, etc. In addition, students will use real-world datasets to examine various social values within algorithms, computational techniques, and design decisions. Through these experiences, students will learn to recognize the ethics built into the various technologies they use and understand the responsibility of software engineers to act in the interest of all those affected by their products. 

Van Wart has experience working as a software developer and designer, with a focus on collaborative urban and regional planning systems research. Her research explores approaches to broadening participation in computing that involve creative production and working with real-world data sets.

Jennifer Lackey, Sepehr Vakil, and Sarah Van Wart have been named the 2020 recipients of The Alumnae of Northwestern University’s Award for Curriculum Innovation for helping create courses for undergraduate students.