Ethics Course Offers Real-World Challenges

Jeff Germundsen
Jeff Germundsen

Future med student Jeff Germundsen brings service-learning to area hospice

Jeff Germundsen, 32, a 2001 graduate of Farmington High School, started working in the meat department at a metro area grocery store while still a student at FHS. He passed on college and turned his job into a career. As time went on, Jeff regretted not getting a college education.

“One morning I woke up and decided to go to school,” he said. What makes that decision unusual is Jeff’s long-range goal: Earn his M.D. and practice medicine. For Jeff, that goal starts with earning an A.S. degree in Individualized Studies at Dakota County Technical College.

“I chose DCTC because tuition is affordable, the commute is only twenty minutes and the general education courses transfer to four-year colleges,” he said. “I like that everyone on campus is friendly and my classes are all conveniently located. You can actually talk to your instructors. Class sizes are small and not like university lectures with hundreds of students.”

Jeff reported that one general education course, Ethics, has made a strong impression on him. By exploring classical and world philosophies, the course serves as an introduction to the study of ethics, a term Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language defines as “that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.” In other words: a system of moral principles.

Wes Jorde, a philosophy instructor at the college, teaches the Ethics course. Wes noted that his students use the Socratic method, which is named after the Greek sage, Socrates, and which emphasizes a brisk Q & A format to galvanize critical thinking and shine a brighter light on concepts and ideas.

“The ethics course gives students a chance to develop skills in critical analysis,” Wes said, “which involves, first, explaining their agreement or disagreement with philosophers of the past and, second, explaining connections and disconnections they see between theories they’re reading about and the real world.”

Student philosophy: “Just do it. You only live once. Do what makes you happy.”

On Ethics: The course changed the way I think about things. I learned about issues in the world that I never thought of, issues that may not affect me personally, but that I now look at from an ethical perspective. The course broadened my horizons.  — Jeff Germundsen

Jeff admitted that some of the early assigned reading went over his head, but he adapted easily and now taking on the writings of deep-end philosophers is no different from regular reading. “The class isn’t about reading textbooks,” he added. “Class and group discussions are great. Having so many ideas coming into one room is really neat.”

One aspect of the Ethics curriculum involves participating in service-learning projects that support student perspectives on theories covered during the course. Jeff took his service-learning assignment to an area hospice where end-of-life care and support are delivered to patients and their families.

“I just called up and asked if they needed volunteers—and they said, ‘Yes,'” recalled Jeff, who pointed out that hospice care focuses on patients who have exhausted conventional medicine options and are preparing to die. Hospice nurses make sure their patients are free of pain and comfortable. Hospice care professionals also stay in close communication with family members.

As a hospice volunteer, Jeff was not sure what to expect. His initial reaction left him uncertain and unsettled. “At first, it was tough,” he said. “I thought, holy cow, what am I doing here? Why am I doing this? I am watching someone die.”

That feeling soon vanished and was replaced by an unexpected serenity. Jeff kept vigil with a patient who was unaware of his presence much of the time. Jeff offered support to the patient’s daughter, conversing with her and keeping her company. “I never got the chance to get to know her mother,” Jeff said. “We spent much of our time talking about her mother’s life.”

With other patients, Jeff played cards, looked at photo albums or just talked. His job title at the hospice was simply Volunteer Jeff.

“In the movies, death seems so dramatic,” he said, indicating that his service-learning experience made the idea of dying a little bit easier to contemplate. “What I saw at the hospice was just really peaceful. It wasn’t what I thought it would be at all.”

Wes Jorde reported that Jeff was able to take the knowledge he gained from his service-learning volunteerism and apply it to support his thinking on such difficult topics as Immanuel Kant’s philosophy of universal principles as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “Jeff is a thoughtful student whose understanding of theories and insight into ethical dilemmas are exceptional,” Wes said.

Jeff is married, and he and his wife, Mary, a therapist, reside in Lakeville, Minn. He continues to work 20 to 30 hours a week at the grocery store while attending DCTC. Jeff’s plans for after DCTC include transferring to Augsburg College to major in chemistry and microbiology. From there, his aim is to attend medical school, possibly at the University of Minnesota, but he is not ruling out Stanford, Harvard or Oxford.

The hospice coordinator might be the first person to write Jeff a letter of recommendation. After the project, Wes got the chance to speak with the coordinator, who left him with this message: “Tell Jeff we love him.”

For more information about philosophy courses at DCTC, including Ethics, contact:
  • Wes Jorde
    Philosophy Instructor