Cal Poly Coalition Aims to Make the University a National Leader in Research, Training in Ethical Technology

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Cal Poly researchers have formed an interdisciplinary coalition that aims to work together in order to create the standards and become a key provider of training in the growing field of ethical technology, with the hope of becoming a leading university and example in what they are defining as a new profession and academic field.

As the technology industry increases its influence, impact, and reach, a growing number of critics in academia and industry have focused on the harmful consequences resulting from technological production and the tech industry’s practices and products. Industry insiders have called attention to sexism and racism in the industry and the erosion of user privacy and bias in algorithms that are shaping the world’s economic and judicial systems. Tech companies and civic and nonprofit leaders have responded by recruiting new workers equipped with an understanding of ethics, technology and the way that these two areas of training and knowledge intersect in practice.

“Cal Poly is famous in California and across the country for our graduates, and we know that so many of our alumni are working in the tech industry,” said Renee Reijo Pera, Cal Poly’s vice president for research and economic development. “Knowing that industry understands that a lack of trust in their practices is a true threat, it’s only natural that Cal Poly could serve as a solution.”

Initially, the research team plans to work with companies, nonprofit groups, and local governments seeking to hire ethical tech workers, in order to understand the technology workforce demographics and what skills are required by employers. With the help of student researchers, the ethics team will analyze job advertisements to look for broader trends in what technology companies are seeking. Student researchers will also be involved in reviewing current research and literature on ethical technology and in grant writing. The project ultimately aims to make Cal Poly a hub and model for training these new types of ethical tech workers.

The team will be led by Deb Donig of the English Department, and Matthew Harsh of the Interdisciplinary Studies in Liberal Arts Department and the Center for Expressive Technologies. They plan to collaborate with the California Cybersecurity Institute and faculty across Cal Poly’s colleges and build on work being done in the university’s Philosophy Department and the Science, Technology and Society minors program.

“We’re seeing more and more that the growth and financial success of technology companies have not benefited everyone, and that the work and products of these companies are even harming those in historically marginalized communities,” Harsh said. “By studying how the tech workforce is trained and developed, we can get a better idea of how to train the next generation of this workforce and change the industry for the better.”

The project is funded through the university’s Strategic Research Initiatives (SRI) program, a partnership between Academic Affairs, Research and Economic Development and University Development, as well as Cal Poly’s DxHub. The SRI program identified proposals from Cal Poly faculty and staff that addressed problems facing the Central Coast, California and the world as a whole that also placed an emphasis on the role of undergraduate and graduate student research experiences. For more information about the SRI program, visit  

Contact: Keegan Koberl

October 7, 2020

# # #

Related Content