Three Swarthmore students will participate in the global semifinal of the University of Oxford's Map the System competition on Wednesday, May 10.
This is the inaugural year of Swarthmore’s participation in the competition, which "challenges participants to use systems thinking as a guiding approach to understanding some of the most complex issues that the world faces today."
The Swarthmore team, consisting of Karina Flores ’25, Prince Tardeh ’25, and Lina Verghese ’25, worked on “Public Health Outcomes in Pennsylvania's Incarceration System.” With guidance and support from the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility, they spent six months learning frameworks for systems thinking, interviewing key stakeholders, consulting faculty, and reviewing various sources to develop a deeper understanding of the issue from a systems perspective.
The exercise led them to a detailed written summary and a systems map, highlighting the many factors contributing to the system’s current state and outlining potential solutions.
“Developing a systems mindset — i.e., being able to look at the system as a whole and understand and visualize system dynamics, how various factors connect to and affect each other, and where best to engage without causing harm — is critical to coming up with reliable, responsible solutions to complex social issues,” says Nimesh Ghimire ’16, senior fellow at the Lang Center, who guided the students and facilitated Swarthmore’s participation in the competition.
A total of four Swarthmore student teams took part in Map the System's on-campus competition that ran from October to March. At the end of March, an internal final was held, where the teams presented the systems map they worked on. A panel of judges picked the team of Flores, Tardeh, and Verghese to represent Swarthmore to compete in the global semifinal, which will be held virtually.
The students say they are grateful for the opportunity to engage in systems thinking with a focus on public health within Pennsylvania's incarceration system, and thankful to the Lang Center for all of its help.
The Swarthmore team is one of the approximately 55 teams competing in the global semifinal. They will compete against students from universities in countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. The top teams from the semifinals will then advance to the finals, which will be held in person at the University of Oxford in July.
"We are proud of our students for representing Swarthmore College on the global stage," says Ben Berger, executive director of the Lang Center and associate professor of political science. "Their dedication, creativity, and commitment to deeply understand and help to address complex problems attests to Swarthmore’s enduring values and mission."
The Map the System competition is a flagship program for the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford. It is designed to "foster systems thinking mindset among participants and encourages a learning first approach to social change — one where people take the time to understand and build upon existing efforts before attempting something new.”