Carla Cruz, a junior majoring in integrative physiology, won CU Boulder’s inaugural Map the System competition for her research on improving diabetes management in Latinx populations throughout the U.S.
Map the System invites students to look deeper into the complex social and environmental problems found in the modern world, using "systems thinking." Organized by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University, this competition offers CU Boulder students the opportunity to compete first at a campus level and—if they win their university competition—a global level.
Cruz had never been introduced to systems thinking prior to competing. "It really challenged me to step back, take a broader perspective and see the entirety of the systems at work that cause health disparities across the U.S.," she said. "So many global issues have multiple players involved and are very complex and multifaceted, but systems thinking introduces an efficient way to “map out the system” and identify the greatest areas of opportunity to make a change."
Cruz first heard about the Map the System competition in a sociology course she took titled Suffering and Care in Society. While most classes require students to write a traditional research paper, in this class she was able to pursue a project that she was passionate about and that prepared her for the Map the System contest.
"I wanted to focus on social factors that affect a person’s health, such as living conditions, access to healthy food, level of health literacy and so on," said Cruz. "Many underserved communities throughout the U.S. are disproportionately impacted by chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, asthma and more, so I wanted to better understand why and come up with impactful solutions."
Winning the competition was "incredibly rewarding and motivating" for Cruz, who wants to continue advocating for these underserved communities and create a more equitable health system for all.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Cruz will be competing virtually in Map the System's Global Final in early June.
"Ms. Cruz and other competitors stepped up to the challenge and participated in the event despite the disruption of COVID-19," said Don Grant, CU Boulder's Map the System organizer, professor of sociology and director of the Social Innovation Program. "Their resilience is a testament to the fact that CU Boulder students are determined to change the world."