The Atkins Center for Ethics 2019-2020 Essay Contest

The Atkins Center for Ethics is an initiative made possible through a gift from Michele Atkins, a Carlow graduate, and her husband, Patrick Atkins, Ph.D. The goal of the Center is to develop students as ethical leaders and to promote civil discourse on moral and social issues facing our country and the world today. In that spirit, the Center sponsors an essay contest each year for high school students focusing on an issue of ethical concern.

All essays should specifically address this year’s topic.

Topic: Social Conformity: How Far Should We Go to Improve Society?

Imagine a pill or therapy capable of rewiring a person’s brain to make them more empathetic, decrease aggression, and improve their capacity for moral reasoning. Such a scenario may not be that far away. Technologies to read and manipulate thought patterns are growing. Elon Musk’s Neuralink project is attempting to establish direct communication between our brains and computers. Also, Kernel, a company in California, has invested $100 million to develop intelligence-boosting brain implants.

Eliminating abnormal thought patterns and promoting social conformity by technological or pharmacological means could make the world a better, safer place. Why not embrace the opportunity to improve society? Or, do people have an inalienable right to be their flawed or aberrant selves?

Our goal is to spark your moral imagination. 


WHO: Open to all students enrolled in 11th or 12th grade classes.

WHEN: Essay must be submitted online to the Atkins Center for Ethics on or before the contest deadline of February 15, 2020.

Contest rules for eligibility:

  • Essay must be 800-1200 words in length, not including citations and bibliography.
  • Student must respond to the topic questions in an articulate, clear, and organized manner.
  • Essay must be the independent work of the student.
  • Essay must be submitted as a PDF or Microsoft Word document.

CRITERIA: Essays will be judged on the basis of a thorough and well-organized response to the prompt and the ability to explore and discuss the ideas and ethical concepts that support his/her position. No particular ethical perspective will be imposed on the entrants. Students are encouraged to express themselves freely. Judging will be conducted in stages: (1) initial screening of submissions that all rules are met and selecting the top 20 essays; (2) judging the top 20 essays by a committee of Carlow faculty members.


A cash prize of $600 will be awarded to the winning student. A cash prize of $300 will be awarded to the second place entry and a $100 prize will be awarded for third place.
The Essay Contest prizes will be awarded by the committee solely on the basis of merit. No additional commitment is required.

Click here to submit your entry for the 2019-2020 Atkins Center for Ethics Essay Contest!