The Gordon Career Center held a series of student presentations for Map the system, an annual competition organized by the University of Oxford, on Sunday 6 March. Educational institutions can partner with Oxford to organize a local edition of the competition and students can participate individually or in teams of up to six people. Participants design a solution to a global problem and present it to a panel of judges, and each participating institution selects a team of finalists to attend a global final competition. The program emphasizes the importance of understanding problems and examining existing solutions to move forward.
The director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Makaela Kingsley, designed the “Mapping the System for Social and Environmental Impact” student forum to provide students with the opportunity to participate in the competition. Kingsley explained that the competition is closely aligned with the role of the Patricelli Center on campus.
“When I first heard about Map the System in 2018, I knew straight away it was something I wanted to get involved with,” Kingsley said. “The mission of this global competition has synchronized with the approach of the Patricelli Center.”
In 2020, Kingsley was inspired to design a half-credit student forum to accommodate the Map the system competition, where students could choose a problem they were passionate about and brainstorm a solution that could then be submitted to the global competition. Jhe ultimate goal of the forum is to introduce students to systems thinking and teach them skills that can be applied to many other types of work.
“Students learn techniques for understanding complex social and environmental issues, and they leave the forum better prepared to think critically about topics they encounter in their other courses, in their daily lives, and in their professional endeavours,” said said Kingsley.
Kingsley then assigned two juniors, Akansha Singh ’23 and Sarah Ardhani ’23, to teach the course material she compiled in 2021. The forum has become a recurring course, and for Spring 2022 Aldrean Alogon ’23 has decided to lead the course. As a forum alumnus, Alogon wanted to continue his legacy on campus.
“I wanted to teach the class because I know I learned so much about it when I was just a student,” Alogon said. “[The forum] teaches some system mapping methodologies [that help] better understand the system underlying the specific problem.
The students’ projects covered a range of topics and regions, including migrant workers in Malaysia, gay loneliness, risks of future global pandemics, and admission rates for low-income Connecticut students to universities in elite. Over the course of the semester, students gained confidence in their chosen topics.
“I still remember the first day I spoke to [the students]“said Alogon. “They were still trying to figure out what to pursue specifically as part of their overall passion, and now they’re practically experts on it.”
Julie Ordonez ’23, who took the forum and studied the future of food production systems as the world’s population grows, agreed that the course helped her take a systematic approach to problem solving.
“[The forum] made me think differently about even how to start looking at a problem: where to start, who to ask, and how not to bring your biases into the research,” Ordonez said.
Kingsley pointed out that systems mapping can help people implement real change by altering the way they deal with challenges.
“I believe none of us can be an effective entrepreneur and change agent without the tools of systems thinking,” Kingsley said. “We need to understand the problems, their root causes and the perspective of all stakeholders before we can develop and launch solutions.”
Ordonez said the forum helped her analyze systemic issues and find concrete ways to address them.
“A lot of times my classmates and I leave the classroom after learning about really hard things like oppression, racism and sexism, discouraged,” Ordonez said. “A class like this is the only class [type] where you don’t feel like it.
Kingsley agreed that the forum provides valuable hands-on learning and hopes students will have more opportunities in the future to organize projects independently and engage with groups outside the University.
“Wesleyan has always celebrated ‘practical idealism,’ and my job at the Patricelli Center is to support students who want to go out and change the world,” Kingsley said. “I would like to see more opportunities for applied and experiential learning integrated into school life, from project-based summaries in all majors to service-learning courses in more departments.”
Eugenia Shakhnovskaya can be contacted at [email protected]