Wicked Festival presenters take on tough issues

Students at the inaugural Wicked Festival presented their research and offered possible solutions for some of the world’s most persistent public problems.

Makayla Fields doesn’t have all the solutions for what the United States should do in Afghanistan, but she has some well-informed ideas.

This semester, Fields, a political science major at Radford University, has been examining the situation. Her classmates in their U.S. Foreign Policy class have been doing the same with other “wicked problems” around the world. Their goal in the class taught by Professor of Political Science Paige Tan, Ph.D., is to develop ideas and explore possible solutions for persistent public problems.

Also known as Wicked Problems!

As someone with an interest in examining such issues on an international scale, the class assignment has been fulfilling and rewarding for Fields.

“I want to study international problems [in a future career], so doing this research is wonderful and amazing for me,” said the junior from Hampton, Virginia, who presented on the topic “Re-establishing U.S. Defense Credibility after the Chaotic Afghanistan Withdrawal” at the inaugural Students Solving Persistent Public Problems Conference, or Wicked Festival for short, on Nov. 11, 2021.

Held in multiple rooms on the first floor of Radford University’s Heth Hall, the Wicked Festival brought together almost 100 students from courses in political science, philosophy, peace studies and Appalachian studies to present on a variety of topics. Many were Honors College students.

“The commonality here is that all the students are working on tough-to-solve public problems, or wicked problems,” explained Tan, one of the event’s organizers.

Many students, like Fields, presented their thoroughly researched topics and solution ideas while standing beside posters they created to support their ideas. They answered questions from the numerous attendees who passed through the rooms. Faculty, staff and fellow students made up most of the visitors.

Participating in the semester-long process “has helped me strengthen my research skills,” said Gabrielle Spennacchio, a senior psychology major from Radford, Virginia, who researched and presented on climate change.

Timely, close-to-home topics ranged from matters involving campus clean-up and sustainability in Appalachia to national issues such as police and race and issues at the U.S. southern border. A few students delved into international problems, such as women’s rights in Afghanistan and the rise of the populist right in Europe.

One class, POSC 130: Changing the World, involved students taking action on the real-world public problems they identified.  “They shared their attempts to actually change the world through petitions, public education and lobbying public officials,” said Tan.

 Other students gave public presentations, engaging listeners on such wicked problems as mail-order brides, international protection for whistleblowers and global management of vaccines.

Students enrolled in Professor Tay Keong Tan’s Political Science 490 capstone course tackled topics concerning Radford’s recently formed Presidential Task Force on Sustainability, which aims to achieve carbon neutrality on the Radford University campus by 2040. Tay Keong Tan’s students examined campus sustainability in terms of academics, campus engagement and operations, and services such as food, dining, waste, purchasing and transportation.

Students in the capstone course were organized during the fall semester into four teams to develop workable ideas, strategies and solutions.

Four other faculty members assigned students to present research at the Wicked Festival, which Paige Tan hopes will become a yearly event at Radford. Participating were students in courses taught by Professor of Political Science and Director of International Studies Tay Keong Tan, Ph.D.; Heather Keith, Ph.D., professor of philosophy; Johannes Grow, political science instructor; and Tim Thornton, Appalachian studies adjunct faculty member.

Dec 8, 2021
Chad Osborne
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