Senior Austin Foushee’s commitment to the National High School Ethics Bowl has helped encourage the next generation of deep thinkers and inspired the program’s first alumni scholarship.
Senior Austin Foushee’s Carolina legacy began, unknowingly, when he was still in high school.
A native of Mebane, North Carolina, Foushee was among the first classes of students at his alma mater, Alamance-Burlington Early College. At the time, there were not many student clubs or activities to choose from, but Foushee was determined to change that.
“A bunch of my friends at Eastern Alamance [High School] were doing the ethics bowl competition,” he said, referring to the National High School Ethics Bowl (NHSEB). “They were talking about it all the time.” Foushee knew he wanted to be a part of it, too.
Ethics for all
The NHSEB is part of the Parr Center for Ethics in the College of Arts and Sciences’ department of philosophy. The program offers a space for high school students to engage in thoughtful discussions about real-life ethical dilemmas — everything from the consumption of genetically modified crops to the responsibilities of TikTok-famous college athletes. The program hosts regional competitions, including the North Carolina Regional at UNC, as well as a national championship event, which invites teams across the country to Chapel Hill to compete each spring.
Once Foushee heard about the program, he convinced his English teacher and a few friends to help him establish his high school’s inaugural team.
The first year they competed at the North Carolina Regional Competition, they placed 21st out of 24 teams, he said. “So not dead last — a resounding success for all of us,” Foushee added with a smile.
He led the team through his senior year at Alamance-Burlington Early College, where he earned both his high school diploma and associate degree. Then it came time to choose a university to continue his academic journey. Foushee admits the deciding factor wasn’t scientific.
“Carolina was always kind of my front runner,” he said, even though his sister and dad had attended N.C. State University. Foushee looked to his high school principal for advice. After a heartfelt conversation, his principal asked a final question: Would Foushee rather wear red or blue for the rest of his life?
Foushee paid his enrollment deposit to Carolina “roughly two hours later.”
Tar Heel beginnings
At UNC, Foushee’s academic focus began with his first major, political science. He knew he wanted to pursue law school after graduation, and the coursework was a great fit. One of those courses, “American Political Thought,” sparked his interest in philosophy, his second major.
But the core of his Carolina experience was his passion for the ethics bowl, and he continued his work with the program through a work-study position as its first undergraduate assistant.
In that role, he advised organizers of NHSEB regional bowls, mentored high school participants and helped the Parr Center welcome students to UNC for the national competition. His favorite memories all involve mentoring and connecting with students.
Foushee’s own mentor, Alex Richardson, director of the NHSEB, said Foushee’s ability to relate to students and serve as a role model were just a few of the many talents he brought to the program.
“He is the ethics bowl student at their best,” Richardson said. Someone “who comes to a public university with a sort of broad public orientation, learns about what that means, integrates really tightly into the community and then makes a difference in that community over only a couple of years.”
Foushee has only spent two years at Carolina, but his impact on the community has been multifaceted.
Through the course “Pre-College Philosophy,” taught by Ph.D. student Delaney Thull as a capstone for Parr Center Ethics Fellows, Foushee met with and encouraged high school educators in Wilmington who were interested in starting their own ethics bowl teams. In his work-study role, Foushee established and led the program’s first student advisory council, which allowed high school participants to give qualitative feedback about their NHSEB experience. For this year’s national championship, Foushee was even able to write two case studies, which students deliberated on while competing in Chapel Hill.
At that same national competition, the program unveiled the Austin Foushee Alumni Scholarship to honor his contributions. The award will be given to an alumnus of the NHSEB who plans to enroll at Carolina as a first-year student. The first scholarship will be awarded in August.
“I think I was the last to know,” Foushee said of the honor, which was a surprise until its unveiling. His family was there to celebrate the news, including his younger sister, Hannah, who now competes on the Alamance-Burlington Early College ethics bowl team that Foushee founded five years ago.
After graduation this weekend, Foushee still hopes to support the NHSEB by returning to the national competition as a guest judge. Richardson hopes for that, too.
“He is a leader in this community,” Richardson said. “There are few people in the country who know and care more about this activity than Austin does.”
When Foushee looks back on his time at UNC, he’ll remember giving campus tours at the national competition, working with Richardson and Thull in the Parr Center office and gathering his friends in his residence hall to cheer on the Tar Heels during basketball season. His advice to his fellow Tar Heels is to slow down and enjoy every second.
It’s funny now to think back on that pivotal conversation with his high school principal, Foushee said.
“I have desperately fallen in love with Carolina,” and for many more reasons “than just wearing blue.”
By Jess Abel, College of Arts and Sciences
Learn more about the NHSEB in Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine.