Students take on the toughest problems at Wicked Festival


More than 300 Radford University students took over the third floor of Kyle Hall on Nov. 10, 2022, to demonstrate and discuss their fall semester research into the wicked problems plaguing society.

The students’ presentations were part of the Wicked Festival, a semi-annual student forum hosted by the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences and supported by the Center of Innovative Teaching and Learning, Citizen Leader and the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship.

The goal of the festival is to give students the tools and resources needed for them to become experts and problem solvers for some of the world’s most complex, persistent and “wicked” issues of a public nature – problems such as climate change, inequality, poverty and world hunger.  

“Radford faculty members are working deeply with students to engage them on issues students are passionate about and mentoring them to attain the level of expertise it requires to offer solutions,” said Professor of Political Science Paige Tan, Ph.D., about the many benefits of students examining wicked problems. Tan was one of the Wicked Festival organizers.

“This gets to the second benefit,” she explained. “Students can look out at the world, see problems and feel empowered that they have the ideas and skills to solve those problems. We hope their passion and empowerment will last their whole lifetimes and allow them to apply themselves to solve whatever problems they choose.”

Most students delved into the research as part of a team from courses in criminal justice, English, marketing, philosophy, political science and social work, with topics ranging across a wide social spectrum.

“We’re learning how to solve real-world problems,” said Jackson Martin, a freshman marketing major from Roanoke, Virginia. “These wicked problems have no clear-cut solution, and it has been a great opportunity to really explore how we might find solutions to some of these problems.”

Martin worked with a group of four other freshmen who are enrolled in a Marketing 101 course, Creativity and Innovation, taught by Professor of Marketing Jane Machin, Ph.D. One of his research partners was Jerrod Traynham, a freshman marketing and management major.

“It’s really cool to go through the class and look at these problems, Traynham said, “and it’s exciting to come here and see everyone working on different issues.”

Excited for the event, too, was distinguished guest speaker Paul Hanstedt, Ph.D., the director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Washington & Lee University.

“It is so impressive,” said Hanstedt, who literally wrote the book – “Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World” – about teaching students about wicked problems.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said, standing among a sea of students presenting their findings. “The way these students have engaged their ideas is truly an educational experience. The light in their eyes changes. They’re not just learning about themselves; they’re learning about what they are capable of accomplishing.”

Radford students can further explore issues through the university’s new wicked problems minor, an interdisciplinary collaboration by political science and philosophy and religious studies. The minor places students in the position of authority as growing experts on social and political problems, particularly through the co-curricular campus-based Wicked Festival. 

“It’s really awesome that Radford offers us to participate in this,” said Jared Lawson, a junior social work major from Pearisburg, Virginia. “One way to start changing these issues is to turn to the younger populations – people who are one day going to be very influential in solving these problems.”

Pursuing expertise and solutions of wicked problems gives students another benefit, Tan noted, that will serve them well beyond their academic years at Radford.

“Solving problems is a key career skill that employers are seeking,” she said. “Our wicked students are going to be wicked-good problem solvers, and we know employers will want to hire them!”

Dec 6, 2022
Chad Osborne
(540) 831-7761