a Caucasian man sitting at a table holding an open book
October 28, 2022

Meet the Tatelbaum Visiting Scholar in Ethics and Creating

...explore the big world of questions you can ask about anything
by Andy Housiaux

Tell us about yourself and your background.

I'm Ryan Ravanpak, a philosopher by training. I spent six years in Iran as a young child, then grew up in California. I went to undergrad at UC-Berkeley, where I got a BA in philosophy. After that, I moved to MIT, where I got a PhD in philosophy.

One of the things I examined in my graduate studies was the idea of partiality, which looks at the reasons for caring about those you love over strangers. I’m also interested in bioethics and questions around personality.

I love philosophy in part because of how open-ended the questions are. There’s a philosophy of anything: philosophy of science, a philosophy of language, a philosophy of physics. There’s ethics, metaphysics, and epistemology. There’s a big world of questions you can ask about anything, and for me that was really appealing because I didn’t want to tie myself down too much.

What drew you to Andover and to the position of the Tatelbaum Visiting Scholar in Ethics and Creating?

In the second half of my PhD, I started gravitating more and more toward applied ethics: bioethics, for example, and the ethics of technology. I also started to study environmental philosophy more and taught a class on decarbonization. I really liked the applied sphere. These questions were gripping in a way that some of the more abstract questions of philosophy weren’t always. It was much closer to our day-to-day lives, which is something I find beautiful.

I also cared a lot about pedagogy and education. I did a lot of work at MIT’s Teaching and Learning Lab. First, a certificate program, and, then later, a year-long fellowship that enabled me to work on pedagogy with a range of departments.

This position at Tang seemed like the best of all worlds. It’s interdisciplinary, and I think of myself as someone interdisciplinary. It focuses on pedagogy in ways I like to think about pedagogy. I’m teaching two classes in philosophy and religious studies—two pretty different ones. One on existentialism and the other on ethics and technology. I love how I can have my hand in so many different bins at the same time.

That’s a very Andover experience. You’ve been here now for about two months. What are some of the things you’ve been working on so far?

In addition to my teaching, I’ve been working on the ethi{CS} project, collaborating closely with Kiran Bhardwaj and Nick Zufelt. We’ve been developing some professional development courses for teachers that will be delivered both in-person and asynchronously. The question we’re asking is, how can we help teachers teach ethics well in their STEM classes?

I also just wrote a blog post about having Torrence Boone ’87, current vice president at Google and co-lead of the New York office, come to my ethics of tech class, where we talked about privacy, cookies, and other topics. We were able to talk very candidly about these topics. That was a highlight for sure.

I’ve also been working on several writing projects. One is an op-ed about the ethics of prescription drug monitoring. I’m also thinking more about open learning, and writing a piece that would feature the Workshop, Nick Zufelt’s pedagogical approach in a CS course (where he allows students to have more say in their grades), and a collaboration between the ethi{CS} project and the CSbyUS project at Duke, which is looking at ethics and human flourishing.

What’s been a highlight of your time here?

The time with Torrence Boone was a real highlight. He was incredibly generous with his time, spending 90 minutes with me and the students. We were able to ask him questions of real importance, and that’s an opportunity I would not have had elsewhere. We were able to dialogue with someone who has such influence in the tech sphere. It was an incredible opportunity, and it was inspiring to see the thoughtful questions the students had for our guest.

What’s a fun fact about yourself?

I write longer fiction. I’m halfway through a novel-length piece right now.


Many thanks to Joe Tatelbaum ’78 for funding this key position on the Tang Institute team.

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