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Theodore Biggs-Engel posing with two awards at Map the System

UM student Theodore Biggs-Engel earns 4th in Canadian systems thinking competition

UM student earns 4th in Canadian systems thinking competition

First year UM participates in Map the System with a project about access to gender-affirming care in Manitoba

June 4, 2024 — 

In 2024 UM participated for the first time in Map the System, a systems thinking competition.  

Unlike hackathons or case competitions where participants work towards a solution, Map the System is focused on deeply understanding a problem using systems thinking.  

What is systems thinking? It is a way to approach issues by looking at them as systems and uncovering how all the pieces connect to make the whole. The approach reflects – rather than rejects – the systems dynamics that make meaningful change so difficult.  

For 3rd year Interdisciplinary Health Program student Theodore Biggs-Engel, that problem was the lack of access to gender affirming care in Manitoba. 

Biggs-Engel took FMLY-3750 Fundamentals of Health Promotion with Dr. Punam Mehta in the winter term. Dr. Mehta redesigned a key assessment in two of her courses that invited students to pursue a topic of interest using systems thinking.

Headshot of Dr. Punam Mehta

In its inaugural year, Dr. Mehta introduced Map the System to over 600 students. Drawing on her extensive experience at the intersection of feminism and health. Dr. Mehta supported Theo in developing their voice on gender-affirming care.

Once the assessments were submitted, students had the option to continue revising their work and submit it to the Map the System competition.  

On April 1, Janine Carmichael, Faculty Specialist for Entrepreneurship in The Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning hosted the UM Final for Map the System. Carmichael was the lead in bringing Map the System to UM and collaborating with Dr. Mehta. 

Judges Daniel Heschuk, Program Development Specialist with the Science Innovation Hub in the Faculty of Science. Dr. Javier Mignone, Professor of Community Health in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences and Meg Miller, Data Visualization Specialist with UM Libraries ultimately chose Biggs-Engel as the UM finalist. 

Theodore Biggs-Engel and judges at Map the System, a systems thinking competition

Left to right: Dr. Javier Mignone, Daniel Heschuk, Theodore Biggs-Engel and Meg Miller.

Along with the finalists from 20 other post-secondary institutions across Canada, Biggs-Engel traveled to Calgary on May 24-27 to complete in the Canadian Final. He earned an impressive 4th place in our inaugural year participating in the competition. As a top four winner, Biggs-Engel will receive access to additional funding and mentorship to continue working on his research, generously supported by ATCO. Biggs-Engel also received a special award recognizing his work as a submission by an individual, compared to a team submission.  

Theodore Biggs-Engel posing with two awards at Map the System

“I’m passionate about this topic, and I’m grateful to be able to explore topics of interest during my post-secondary education. This is not just an academic exercise. I want to remove barriers to care and give a voice to trans and gender diverse people in Manitoba,” Biggs-Engel said. 

“I’m also mindful of all the other skills that I developed as part of this experiential learning opportunity. I’ve practiced systems thinking and networking, gained time management and refined my public speaking skills,” he added.  

Biggs-Engel is looking forward to being the interim president of the Rainbow Pride Committee (RPC) with UMSU this summer.

Map the System originated out of the Said School of Business at the University of Oxford in 2015. Normally the Canadian finalist would go on to compete in the global final in England. For this year, the global portion was paused. In its place was an equipping session for global system thinking educators. Dr. Mehta represented the UM at that event in March.  

Dr. Punam Mehta with colleagues posing for a group photograph

Dr. Mehta traveled to Oxford for a global Map the System educator conference where she learned about Map the System from the original creators.

“I have a unique role at UM in supporting learning about, for and through entrepreneurial thinking. When I came across Map the System I knew it would give students in a range of disciplines a meaningful opportunity to learn through entrepreneurship. Not solely a business construct, our involvement also affirms UM’s approach to entrepreneurial thinking being used to address a range of social and environmental issues as well,” concluded Janine Carmichael. 

For more information on Map the System or for support in infusing entrepreneurial thinking into your learning environments, connect with Janine Carmichael at The Centre for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning. 

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