Adrenaline flowed as Team Giraffes delivered a powerful argument about raising taxes on corporations.

Then came the wait.

Soon, the judges would declare a winner.

“We felt confident in how we presented, how we closed the final round,” said team member Stefan Price-Aguirre. “But the opposing team was also formidable.”

Family, friends, and other members of the Virginia Tech community spectated from afar through screens.

A few minutes passed as the judges tabulated the final scores.

They’d weighed the arguments. Which team presented with the most clarity and thoughtfulness? Who best considered different viewpoints and identified central ethical dimensions?

The winner of the first-ever Virginia Tech Ethics Bowl, the judges declared, was Team Giraffes.

Price-Aguirre, a sophomore English literature major, was joined by juniors Clement Mulock and Jonathan Falls on the first-place squad.

The three-member team had met prior to the competition to discuss topics and strategy. As first-place winners, they earned $750 in scholarships.

Clement Mulock and Stefan Price-Aguirre
Junior Clement Mulock (left) and sophomore Stefan Price-Aguirre, along with junior Jonathan Falls, composed Team Giraffes, one of eight teams in the first-ever Virginia Tech Ethics Bowl case competition.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the competition, as every team was well-prepared and made strong arguments,” said Mulock, an international studies major with minors in philosophy and Spanish. “It was refreshing to see controversial topics debated in a respectful and thoughtful manner. Regardless of the outcome, any person who participated came away with a more nuanced view of current ethical issues. That in itself is worth a lot.”

Held via Zoom, the Virginia Tech Ethics Bowl kicked off in late March with the championship round held April 7.

The event marked a milestone in Virginia Tech’s efforts to create its own Ethics Bowl team.

Justin Horn, a collegiate assistant professor of philosophy in the Department of Philosophy, has led the charge.

“Frankly, I’m amazed at how well it’s all coming together,” said Horn.

Horn hopes the competition will generate more interest in the creation of a university team — or even multiple squads — beginning this fall.

For the Virginia Tech Ethics Bowl, eight teams of undergraduates competed, with second- and third-place finishers also earning scholarships.

The competition featured a wide range of debate topics such as mask mandates and racial profiling, Title IX and due process, and author J.K. Rowling’s comments about transgender people.

“I discuss debatable issues in all of my classes, and sometimes my professors host debates in class. But I had never participated in any formal debate before this,” said Falls, who is majoring in international relations and German with a minor in philosophy. “All of the cases we discussed were rightly designed to be complex and controversial.”

Falls said he initially worried the tournament design would compel him to oppose the other team even if he agreed.

“But now that I can reflect on the competition, I feel that the design often led each team to examine the nuances of each other’s argument, which raised the overall level of discussion,” he said.

Price-Aguirre said the trio’s decision to name themselves Team Giraffes happened on a whim. They had just recently met through an informational session about the Ethics Bowl and needed to submit a team moniker.

“We didn’t have any strong feelings on a team name,” said Price-Aguirre. “We thought, well, giraffes are cool.”

Falls, Mulock, and Price-Aguirre all said they’re excited about potentially joining a university team.

“I’d love to run it back with Team Giraffes and see if we can have some intercollegiate success,” said Price-Aguirre.

Virginia Tech’s Ethics Bowl team — or teams — will debate against other universities and colleges as part of the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl, a time-honored extracurricular activity found in several universities across the United States. 

As part of the program, Virginia Tech students will host bi-monthly meetings to discuss ethical issues in a comfortable, intellectually rich environment.

Horn said Ethics Bowl provides a unique opportunity for students to think deeply about the most pressing social, political, and moral issues facing society. It also couples the excitement of team sport with the intellectual rigor of moral philosophy.

“What’s great about Ethics Bowl is that you can’t get away with mere soundbites,” said Horn. “A 280-character Tweet is too short for this type of forum. In this inaugural competition, all of the teams did an outstanding job and clearly prepared themselves well by diving into the debate topics.”

Horn thanked the volunteer judges for their time and devotion to the competition. Faculty members throughout the university along with area business leaders made up the judge panel.

The competition’s university sponsors included the Kellogg Center for Philosophy, Politics, and Economics; the Department of Philosophy; the Department of Engineering Education; and the Department of Management. Lockheed Martin and the Business Leadership Center also sponsored the competition.

The university’s Division of Scholarly Integrity and Research Compliance (SIRC), part of the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation, is supporting efforts to create an Ethics Bowl team at the university.

The competition was held as part of Virginia Tech Ethics Week, a weeklong series of events related to ethical leadership and integrity hosted by the Business Leadership Center in the Pamplin College of Business. Kimberly Carlson, an associate professor of practice in management, organized Ethics Week events. Along with Horn, Carlson also co-organized the Virginia Tech Ethics Bowl.

Horn, who has previously worked with collegiate Ethics Bowl teams, will serve as team coach for the Virginia Tech Ethics Bowl program. He will organize meetings, help students research cases, and facilitate a positive environment for the team to develop and hone their skills.

Any undergraduates interested in joining a Virginia Tech Ethics Bowl team can learn more by reaching out to Horn at

Written by Andrew Adkins