Students raise ethical concerns about Harvey Mudd career fair

Two female students and one male student stand in front of an orange wall smiling
Cleo Forman PO ’20, Yoni Maltsman HM ’22 and Moe Sunami PO ’21 are members of 5C Tech for Good, an organization that strives to educate students about ethics when considering jobs and internships. (Erina Iwasa • The Student Life)

As private data influences elections, facial recognition tracks people and the military-industrial complex grows, students at Harvey Mudd College advocated for a discussion of ethical issues surrounding the technology industry in preparation for the school’s annual Software Engineering Job and Internship Fair on Sept. 11.

Over 70 companies and organizations recruited at the fair, which is open to 5C students, including several companies under scrutiny for controversial practices, including Facebook, AeroVironment and Palantir.

Facebook was recently embroiled in the Cambridge Analytica scandal resulting in CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifying before Congress and a $5 billion dollar fine from the Federal Trade Commission. 

AeroVironment, a manufacturer of drones and tactical missile systems, provides the Pentagon with drones that have been responsible for surveillance and strikes in the Middle East, according to the Los Angeles Times and Wired.

Palantir has a $49 million contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and “provides data-mining software to ICE that has been used to screen undocumented immigrants and plan workplace raids,” according to Business Insider.

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As a result, many students have pushed for increased awareness and consideration of the backgrounds of the companies present at HMC’s career events. 

And they aren’t the only ones.

“Prior to this year’s career fair, there have been plenty of opportunities to perfect resumes, cover letters and interview strategies,” he said in an email to HMC students. “While this is super important, it’s also necessary to have a discussion on navigating the political, moral and deeply personal dimensions of considering whom to work for.” – Yoni Maltsman HM ’22  

Palantir canceled an informational session at UC Berkeley on Tuesday after facing pressure from students over its ICE contract, including a petition to cancel the session that garnered 700 signatures, the Daily Cal reported.

Yoni Maltsman HM ’22 said students are not being prepared for the ethical aspects of potential careers and hosted a meeting called Career Fair “Conscience” Preparation on Sept. 10 to discuss the ethical issues surrounding the technology industry. About 10 people attended the event.

“Prior to this year’s career fair, there have been plenty of opportunities to perfect resumes, cover letters and interview strategies,” he said in an email to HMC students. “While this is super important, it’s also necessary to have a discussion on navigating the political, moral and deeply personal dimensions of considering whom to work for.”

Nico Espinosa Dice HM ’22, who founded the Machine Learning Club with Max Holloway HM ’22 and helped run the Career Fair “Conscience” Preparation, said Harvey Mudd’s mission statement requires such discussions.

The statement says HMC aims to educate students to have a “clear understanding of the impact of their work on society.”

“It requires a dynamic and constantly evolving process,” Espinosa Dice said. “If there is ever a time when students or faculty forget to think about their impact on society or forget to consider ethics, that’s a momentary lapse in fulfilling Mudd’s mission.”

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Cleo Forman PO ’20, a member of 5C Tech for Good, said computer scientists’ tendency to be career-focused makes it difficult to have discussions about the ethics of the tech industry. 

“In the CS [education] that I’ve experienced, there’s a lot of pressure to follow one path because that’s what you see around you,” Forman said. 

Moe Sunami PO ’21 emphasized the personal impact that Palantir’s work has on members of the 5C community.

“These are not just headline issues; these are issues that concern a lot of our lives, our classmates’ lives in very personal ways,” she said. “And we carry the burden of the communities that we come to college with.”

Sarah Park, HMC’s career services director, said in an email that she believes “it’s important for students to research companies and organizations they are considering working for so they can make sure that an organization’s values are aligned with their own.”

Park said HMC aims to bring more diverse selections of employers to campus.

“We do need to broaden the variety of organizations coming to campus, and this is something we are working hard to address,” Park said. “For this upcoming STEM fair, we did intentional outreach to diversify the industries and types of organizations that will be present.” 

Maltsman, Forman and Sunami all hope to see more information on graduate studies, working at NGOs and professional research at future career fairs.

“Career Services listens to faculty and student recommendations and partners with student organizations to bring employers to campus that are of interest,” Park said. “We encourage all students to reach out to us to share their ideas and concerns so that we can more effectively help them explore their career planning needs.”

HMC hosts career fairs three times a year. The General STEM Job & Internship Fair will be held on Oct. 10 and the Spring Job & Internship Fair on Jan. 31, according to HMC career services.

The events will likely be accompanied by more discussion and introspection about the overlapping spheres of ethics and technology hosted by 5C Tech For Good, according to Maltsman.

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