On the menu during a recent dinner at one professor’s house: a course in the art of debate.

The dinner was meant to give students on the Jepson School’s Ethics Bowl team a leg up on the competition. Professor Jessica Flanigan, the team’s coach, cooked dinner and invited a friend who went to Yale Law School, a former debate champion, to spar with the students.

“She gave them some speech tips and debated against them to help them practice thinking on their feet and responding to unexpected objections,” says Flanigan. “It was good to have another perspective beyond what we had talked about in practices.”

The students also conducted independent research on the cases to prepare for the competition.

“Then Dr. Flanigan provided us with fantastic coaching on how to best present arguments and drills to improve thinking and speaking on our feet,” says Matthew Groff, '15, an Army cadet.

Their efforts paid off. The team traveled to Florida in November to represent the University in one of 10 regional bowls held across the U.S. and Canada. They debated topics ranging from business ethics to health care ethics. At the end of the competition, they learned they were advancing to the national competition. They will travel to California in February to compete in the Nineteenth Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl Competition.

The Jepson School's Ethics Bowl team is supported by a grant from the David Davoud Donchian Foundation.

“At some schools, Ethics Bowl is a class. And some of the students have competed several years in a row. So they had a lot more time to prepare and knew what to expect,” says Charlotte Denoyer, '15 “We were all new to the experience. It was interesting to see how well we were prepared and how we compared to other schools in the region.” 

The competition included schools such as Wake Forest University, U.S. Naval Academy and Seton Hall.

Critical thinking and ethical reasoning are at the heart of the Jepson School’s curriculum. “In theory, our leaders should be the most ethical individuals in our society,” says team member Maddie Soskin, '15

Every Jepson student is required to take Leadership Ethics, the capstone course. Denoyer is taking the class this semester with Flanigan. “She really pushes us to consider ethics from all different standpoints,” says Denoyer.

The students see plenty of ways the experience will translate into practical application. “The ability to look at a complex argument, break it down and then develop an argument is an exceedingly valuable skill to have,” says Groff.

Team members are looking forward to the national competition.

“As a team full of first-time ethics bowlers, we are very proud of this accomplishment,” says Mattias Treu, '15. “I think we’ll all be excited to start working on our new cases.”