Students show 'grit and determination' in researching diverse social problems

Emma Berger, Mizuki Oshita, Vanessa Sandoval and Eloisa Gillham on a video call.

Mizuki Oshita, Emma Berger, Eloisa Gillham and Vanessa Sandoval explored the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in care for their Map the System project.


Challenges facing women or families were the focus of this year’s participants in the fifth annual Map the System competition held by the Institute for Community Prosperity at Mount Royal.

The yearly event sees teams of students or recent graduates from across different disciplines analyze social, economic or environmental problems to understand the many contributing factors. Students are expected to apply different skill sets as they think of problem-solving through a process that documents the full complexity of an issue. This year, like last year, the event was held online.

Four teams presented on diverse topics, which included COVID-19 and the mental load of mothers, the overrepresentation of Indigenous children in Canadian child welfare systems, intimate partner violence against young women in Alberta, and barriers to a successful future for women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“I want to thank all of the student teams who have worked so hard to prepare their final presentations,” said James Stauch, director of the Institute for Community Prosperity.

“To put it mildly, this past year has been a difficult one for post-secondary students all around the world. It is remarkable that these students have persevered with their research and systems mapping, which by the way, they don’t get either credit or cash for.”

Stauch said they all showed a passion for their work and “grit and determination” in preparing for the event.

Each team presented their systems map and answered questions from a panel of four judges, who also received each team’s research paper, bibliography and systems map.

Two of the judges were internal to Mount Royal: Steve Kootenay-Jobin, Indigenous housing coordinator in the Iniskim Centre, and Dr. Yasmin Dean, PhD, associate professor and chair of the Department of Child Studies and Social Work. The two external judges were alumnus Nicole Croft, manager of Systems Mapping at HelpSeeker, and George Constantinescu, senior vice-president and chief transformation officer at ATCO Limited.

After each team presented, the judges deliberated and returned to announce the winning group, which explored the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in care: Emma Berger, third-year psychology student; Mizuki Oshita, an international student and recent social work graduate; Vanessa Sandoval, second-year psychology student; and Eloisa Gillham, third-year sociology student.

Their work looked at the history of colonization and forcible removal of children through a historical timeline beginning with the Indian Act of 1876 and through to the present time, in which Indigenous children continue to be taken from their families.

They discussed the damaging effects of removing children, ongoing racial bias against Indigenous parenting styles and a pan-Indigenous approach to problem-solving – like a one-size-fits-all – which fails to recognize differences between communities.

The team’s map of the system emphasized the importance of a connection to the land in peoples’ identities, healing and “sense of survivorship,” and overcoming language loss. Comparing the strengths and weaknesses of approaches used in different jurisdictions, they concluded there needs to be more collaboration with knowledge keepers, adequate funding for infrastructure and community development, support for Indigenous jurisdiction over child and family services and more support for Indigenous education and research.

“One of the things that really stood out is this group did their due diligence and they reached out to the (Indigenous) community to collect knowledge,” said Nicole Croft, speaking for the judges. “And as well, to describe the complexity of the systems and lived experience there. I was really excited to see Grandmother Doreen Spence interviewed.”

The judges appreciated the way the team opened their presentation by asking people to recall a surprise family road trip from their childhood and their excitement from the back seat of the car, then to imagine the fear felt by an Indigenous child being driven away by strangers to an unknown destination after being taken from their family.

“I thought that was a really neat way to open a story and shed light on the complexity of this problem,” Croft commented.

Team member Emma Berger addressed how they approached the topic as non-Indigenous people.

“The way that we presented our information was trying to be respectful to Indigenous perspectives and not say that we have all the solutions as non-Indigenous people. But we recognize things that we need to do on our part and that just learning about it isn’t necessarily enough,” she says.

“We should consistently be trying as people in general to be respectful of each other and promote that through our everyday lives.”

The winning team now moves on to the Canadian final from May 5 to 7, and if successful there, to the global final in June. Mount Royal has finished in the top six teams three times at the international final hosted by Oxford University, including a first-place finish in 2018. Alumnus and staff member Latasha Calf Robe manages the national final with Map the System Canada. Alumnus Ashleigh Metcs planned the Mount Royal event.

Learn more about Map the System and read about last year’s winners. Discover more ways MRU students are becoming changemakers.

April 16, 2021 — Melissa Rolfe

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