Baker News April 23, 2019

Student Reflection: A Year at the Baker Center

by Sarah Mathys

We are proud to publish student reflections on our programming and events. Check out this reflection from College Senior Sarah Mathys on working as an undergraduate assistant at the Baker Center.

My year as an undergraduate assistant at the Baker Center is swiftly coming to a close. In addition to frantically packing, writing my final papers, and searching for an apartment, the end of my senior year has caused me to reflect on the people and organizations that have made the most impact on my four years at the Hilltop. Working at the Baker Center has contributed so much to my time here, and has taught me valuable skills and perspectives that I look forward to applying in my post-grad life.

Human-Centered Design

I started at the Baker Center over the summer, so one of my first projects was to team up with the Baker Future Fellows at New America as they focused on questions related to automation and the future of work. My first workshop with the Future Fellows was led by Liz Anderson, an expert in policy innovation and design thinking. Liz taught us the basics of human-centered design, a tool which places human perspectives and needs at the center of the problem-solving process. As an anthropology major and aspiring development worker, I found in human-centered design an actionable framework for thinking not only about my research and my major, but for my professional path. I learned that it is important to approach every problem from a place of humility, with a beginner’s mindset—rather than immediately jumping to a solution, it is vital that problem-solvers across industries and disciplines take the time to understand the problem from a ground-up perspective. This is a lesson which I look forward to applying in the development space.

Perspective-Taking

Coming from a small, rural town in central Texas, I initially struggled to find my place at Georgetown. How do you relate to people with backgrounds, beliefs, and experiences that differ wildly from your own? Supporting and attending Baker Center programming, like Dan Shapiro’s negotiation clinic and our annual #HoyasAndHighlanders experiential learning trip, helped me to rethink my early experiences at Georgetown and to formulate new ways of making connections across difference. By focusing on emotional intelligence and empathy, and approaching difficult situations (or people!) with an open mind and a willingness to listen, we can build bridges across even the most challenging divides. The qualities and tactics I learned from Professor Shapiro were also emphasized by Professor Rachel Milner Gillers throughout #HoyasAndHighlanders, a program which brings together urban and rural students to challenge stereotypes and participate more deeply in today’s most pressing political and ethical issues. Learning to engage authentically with different perspectives is an invaluable skill, and one which I plan to take with me in addressing both personal and professional challenges.

Systems Leadership

I started working at the Baker Center immediately after returning from a semester abroad in Kampala, Uganda. My program in Uganda was focused on understanding and addressing development challenges the country was facing, and while I learned a lot and broadened my horizons, I left Uganda a little disillusioned by the development sector. When so many necessary projects seemed to go underfunded, how could I alone ever hope to make an impact?

In February and March, our graduate assistant Rachel Leeds taught a systems leadership course at the Center, which I was lucky enough to sit in on. The course brought together graduate students from across various professional fields to analyze how they, as members of different systems, could think about their roles differently, tap into new forms of productivity, and instigate systemic change. Analyzing the same challenges I faced in very different contexts, from banking to education, broadened my perspective and made me realize that understanding how systems function is the key to making the kind of impact I seek. By imagining my goals and projects as small pieces of a larger network, I can identify and collaborate with other stakeholders to create lasting change.

I am so grateful to have worked with the Baker Center over the last year. Meeting and working with such a talented and diverse group of people has opened my eyes to new interests, skills, and leadership frameworks, ultimately shaping my career path and making me more prepared to tackle the leadership challenges of tomorrow.