The ethics of drone warfare, the opioid epidemic, the student debt crisis, the First Amendment on college campuses: The capstone projects chosen by students in SUNY Broome’s Honors Program touched on a range of sensitive issues with real-life impact.
For their Honors 270 course, graduating seniors Nicholas Hayko, Shyanne Daye, Stephie Safari and Zachary Allen found topics that ignited their interest, and met with a faculty consultant and a librarian to develop their research questions and strategy. They presented their findings May 10 to a room of faculty members and administration, receiving the purple cords they will wear during Commencement afterward.
“Thanks for going the extra mile! That’s the main thing your diploma says when you graduate from an honors program at a community college,” said SUNY Broome President Kevin Drumm. “You never know where an experience like this will take you.”
Is drone warfare ethical?
While all of the issues under review are complex, sometimes they lead to simple questions with equally simple answers.
“Is drone warfare ethical? There’s a very simple answer: No,” said Nick Hayko, an Engineering Science major, who will transfer to Clarkson University to major in engineering and management.
In 2015, more than 7,000 drones were used by more than 2,000 trained American military operators, Hayko found through his research.
While he acknowledged that drones, which have a range of 2,000 to 3,000 miles, are efficient and make warfare safer for our military, he pointed to a variety of ethical concerns. The devices enable governments to eliminate people thousands of miles away, devaluing the purpose of war and potentially killing more innocent civilians than the target.
In essence, human contact acts as brake on behavior during war. The move to robot warfare could make it easier for governments to declare wars that have little cost to their own people,
potentially leading to chaos, he said.
“They create as many new hostile targets as they eliminate,” he said.
Shyanne Daye chose a topic close to her heart as a college student: student debt.
Like Nicholas, Zachary and Stephie, Shyanne is a Presidential Honors Scholar – meaning that she received a full ride scholarship to SUNY Broome. But the Business Administration major initially considered going to private Hartwick College and taking on loans to pay for her education, she said.
Sometimes, college debt can be worth it; a degree can lead to significantly higher earnings over the course of a lifetime. However, the positive benefits of an education don’t necessarily outweigh the debt load, which can impact such wide-ranging decisions as purchasing homes and cars, marriage and children.
Even careers with large earning potential – say, physicians and attorneys – aren’t necessarily good bets if they require students to take on massive amounts of debt, as these fields often do.
“I don’t think a ‘good return on investment’ approach is solid because you can’t go into large amounts of debt without facing a burden,” explained Shyanne, who is transferring to Binghamton University to major in finance. “Medical professionals and law professionals have debts so high, their salaries can’t cover it.”
To avoid “debt regret,” students should be aware of the full amount of their loans. They also should avail themselves of grants and scholarships and apply for federal financial aid. Employment can also offset college costs and not just through a paycheck; Shyanne’s employer, for example, offers scholarships to workers pursuing a degree.
Perhaps one of the wisest choices is going to a more affordable public college, such as SUNY Broome. It’s the choice Shyanne made, and she is grateful for the experience.
“I’m really lucky to have gone here and have these opportunities,” she said.
Battling the opioid crisis
Opioid overdoses are now a leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50, and Broome County is no exception, found Stephie Safari, a Liberal Arts and Sciences major transferring into Binghamton University’s nursing program this fall.
Opioid-related deaths in Broome County rose from 47 in 2015 to 76 in 2016, retreating slightly to 66 in 2017. While the drugs have legitimate medical uses in treating short-term and surgical pain, up to a quarter of people with an opioid prescription struggle with addiction issues, she said.
Any long-term approach to combating the opioid epidemic must focus on prevention and education, Stephie advocated in her research project. These measures include prescription guidelines for doctors, drug monitoring programs and increased communication between patients and medical providers. Safe storage and disposal are also necessary to keep the drugs from falling into the wrong hands, as well as improved awareness and the removal of the stigma surrounding addiction.
“It’s important to emphasize that addiction to prescription opioids can happen to anyone,” she said.
Stephie pointed to the case of Michael David Israel, who suffered from Crohn’s disease and became addicted to his prescription pain medication. While he sought help, Michael ended up committing suicide at the age of 20. After his death, his parents created Save the Michaels of the World, an organization that raises awareness and offers community resources to those suffering from drug addiction.
“Addiction is a disease, not a choice,” she said.
Zachary Allen restarted The Fulcrum, the campus’ student newspaper, after an absence that likely spanned decades. The Business Administration major, who is transferring into Binghamton University’s School of Management this fall, has a vested interest in the First Amendment and the free press.
Schools, however, have served as battlegrounds for First Amendment rights, with the lines of victory shifting back and forth. Tinker vs. Des Moines 1969 Supreme Court case, for example, determined that public school students had the First Amendment right to wear black armbands to class in protest of the Vietnam War. On the other side is the 2005 decision before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Hosty vs. Carter, which held the free press rights of college student newspapers to a lower level of First Amendment protection.
The 2005 decision forced many student newspapers to go private and thus maintain independent status, Zachary said. Not all could afford to do so – which risks losing student journalist’ watchdog role.
While encouraging free speech and diverse viewpoints on campus could be seen as chaotic, it can also spark an honest discussion of the issues and lead to a more involved student body, he said.
In addition to current students, a trio of SUNY Broome alumni returned to present their capstone projects. Alexis and Ashley Sisson and Ana Conceicao had completed the Honors Program under a different set of rules, which requires a community internship.
The Sisson twins, who are now studying business at SUNY Cobleskill, both interned with SUNY Broome’s Admissions office. They conducted tours of campus and the Student Village, where they lived at the time, pitched in at walk-in Wednesdays and more. They also gained in-depth knowledge of their college and all it offers, and were able to forge personal connections.
“People were more like a family than just co-workers,” Ashley said.
Ana Conceicao, now a Binghamton University student, participated in the Health for Haiti global service learning course. The experience changed her career trajectory; while she initially considered becoming a doctor, she now envisions a future in public health.
In Haiti, SUNY Broome students provided healthcare, dental care, education, nutrition and more. Ana is already inspired to return.
“Seeing these kids and working with them – they had so much potential. Haiti changed my career path and SUNY Broome made my dreams come true!” she said.