One of the fundamental skills of leaders is the collection and evaluation of often imperfect evidence in support of decision-making in uncertain environments. Sound, rigorous evidence — its collection, critical evaluation, and use in decision-making — should be the cornerstone of an education that integrates the best of the liberal arts tradition with practical experiences that will teach students the skills needed to address the complex, ambiguous problems that characterize our deeply interconnected world.
Four teams of advanced undergraduates completed their pursuit of significant collaborative leadership projects whose design, implementation, and evaluation required significant analytic work. These teams had a capstone experience that brought abstract skills learned in the classroom into sustained contact with practical challenges in global, virtual, and environmental arenas.
Here are final statements from the teams,
- Hailey Espinosa, Public Policy, 2023
- Emily Lancaster, Plant Biology, 2023
Ease Cosmetics is a cosmetics brand that will empower people who wear it, not just because they are taking the time to put on some makeup, but because they are endorsing environmentally friendly cosmetics.
The first product we will launch will be a refillable multi-use balm that can be used on lips, cheeks, and eyelids. The idea is that when the product runs out, the consumer can just repurchase the product itself and not another container that they don’t need. The container will be made out of a compostable material, which will help cut down on the plastic waste produced from beauty products. Additionally, we want the product itself to be ethically made and nourishing.
- Aaron Williams, Economics, 2023
- Jacob Domagalski, Information with a concentration in UX, 2023
- Adam Aguilar, Mechanical Engineering, 2022
- Corey Schneck, Philosophy, Politics and Economics, 2023
- Siddarth Marthi, Stats and Economics, 2023
When we began our project in May, our goal was to make a positive impact on the political climate and enable people to think more critically about their political beliefs. The issues we investigated in our initial stages of research were the effects of seeing opposing beliefs on your own views, the way misinformation spreads on social media, and how informed people currently feel about the government and politics.
To investigate these problems, we conducted literature reviews, expert stakeholder interviews and sent out a survey with the intention of gaining a greater understanding of current perceptions around politics. Going into the research phase, we had an ambitious goal of creating a news aggregation app to bridge the political divide in the US. However, after researching the topic, we learned that being exposed to mainstream political views of the opposition is associated with an increase in polarization. This made it clear that exposing people to different beliefs would not work to depolarize them. Additionally, most of our respondents in the survey felt they already adequately assessed opposing viewpoints when considering their own.
Both of these facts lead us to realize that our original ideas were not centered around consumer needs. Moreover, our research demonstrated the large scope of the issue we sought to address and caused us to realize we needed to begin our project at a smaller scale. To gain a greater understanding of customer needs when consuming news, we conducted consumer interviews to gain qualitative data on the news consumption process using the ‘Jobs to be Done’ framework. This helped us reframe our project around learning, which is one of a few key reasons people consume news.
From these findings, we decided the best course of action to promote learning in a concise and digestible way would be through a newsletter that addresses a different political topic every other week, while also providing source recommendations and tips for having better discussions. Through doing this, we have been able to provide our subscribers with a tool to think critically and consider nuanced positions in the political field.
Seithur Sanitation Initiative
- Sanjana Kannikeswaran, Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, 2021
- Kavya Chandra, Philosophy, 2024
- Nikitha Kamath, Business Administration, 2024
The Seithur Sanitation Initiative aims to address a lack of proper sanitation facilities for low-caste, low-income villagers in Seithur, Tamil Nadu, India, to improve community health and public safety in the village.
Following a communicated and community-identified need for sanitation facilities, we began researching successful toilet implementation projects in rural India, met with leading Indian sanitation NGOs to learn from their experience, and conducted qualitative interviews with residents of Seithur to better tailor the project to the needs of the community and their identified concerns. Through our initial interviews, we identified that the major concerns regarding the use of open defecation were the risk of sexual violence, unsafe and unsanitary roads leading to fields, and the general burden it posed on daily life due to the long commute to the fields. Moreover, we learned that the reason that a previous bathroom facility fell into disuse was that the water supply was shut off, and maintenance workers stopped coming because the Panchayat no longer paid them.
Overall, our work thus far has shown us that toilet facilities are needed in the village and will be used by the residents. We are focused on ensuring project sustainability by setting aside funds for maintenance of the facility and bore well and using bio-septic tank toilets, which require little maintenance in the first place. In this way, we hope to avoid previous pitfalls.
- Magda Wojtara, Neuroscience, 2022
- Aina Zaidi, Computer Science, 2023
- Navdeep Kaur, Public Health, 2022
General Intelligences is a nonprofit organization cultivating an understanding of how to navigate the “hidden curriculum,” providing free & high-quality resources for developing important adult life skills and building students’ social capital. Founded in 2020 by Magda Wojtara, the organization works to combat the complex issue of education inequity at the post-secondary level and beyond. Together, we have helped more than 14,000 young adults from historically underrepresented and marginalized backgrounds achieve professional and academic success (along with a sense of community).
Through rigorous literature reviews, surveys, and individual interviews, we adapted and optimized our programming and offerings to provide an efficient and improved experience. Our current offerings include our journal, website articles, workshops and webinars, and our bi-annual Mentorship Capstone Program. The latter was featured in the Texas Conference on Health Disparities. We developed and launched a toolkit for improving the interactivity of our workshops, created and launched a new website, established an editorial board, and launched our in-house peer-reviewed journal – Journal of Education Inequity. Through tracking our KPIs throughout the fall semester, we received initial feedback that 97% of students using our programming indicated that they would agree or strongly agree that they have gained skills they can utilize in their career, and 83% indicated close or somewhat close connections formed. We also increased workflow productivity by the implementation of project management tools and integrations on Slack and Asana and grew our team to 40 passionate and hardworking students based in the US and internationally. Furthermore, we noted a 30% increase in social media engagement and launched our inaugural campus ambassador program on 20 campuses.
As 2021 came to a close, the Barger Leadership Institute celebrated its 2021 Capstone teams with a virtual Watch Party on December 3, 2021. This event provided the teams with an opportunity to present the work they’ve completed this year, engage in a live discussion with the audience, and receive invaluable feedback from our guests. We invite those interested in learning more about the teams and their projects to view the event below!