Oberlin News Center

Friday, August 18, 2017

Oberlin News Center

Helen Kramer '17 will spend five-and-a-half weeks in Washington, D.C., researching the intersection of peacebuilding and systems thinking. 
Photo By Jennifer Manna

Helen Kramer ’17, a mathematics major with a peace and conflict studies concentration, has been named a Mount Vernon Leadership Fellow. The Mount Vernon Leadership Fellows is a five-and-a-half week summer program in Washington, D.C., for a small cohort of rising students. Fellows engage in dynamic leadership education curriculum; interact with nationally recognized corporate, government, and military leaders; and discover how to change the world through self-reflection, experiential activities, and a community service-focused capstone project.

“I applied for this fellowship because I was excited by the idea of leadership training aimed specifically at college sophomores, and I loved the idea of a program dedicated to helping students pursue a socially driven, entrepreneurial cause,” Kramer says.

During her fellowship, Kramer will be researching the intersection of peacebuilding and systems thinking—the process of understanding how things, regarded as systems, influence one another within a whole—and how mathematical tools can be used to interrupt cycles of violence. Kramer says systems theory, particularly as it applies to peacebuilding, is a major focus of her studies at Oberlin.

Kramer puts her studies of systems theory into action as the founder and chair of the Mutual Interest Research Group (MIRG, pronounced “merge”), a group dedicated to using systems- thinking strategies to help students become better leaders by developing skills for solving complex social problems, she says.

“We emphasize building upon existing projects, relationships, and resources, and we circulate innovative, collaborative strategies for addressing social problems that are important to Oberlin students, such as race relations and financial accessibility,” Kramer says. “Currently, MIRG is spearheading the development of a wiki page to help students understand Oberlin’s decision-making structures while giving student leaders a place to record their work, thereby addressing endemic student turnover that leads to misinformation and lapses in student activism.”

In addition to her role with MIRG, Kramer is a resident assistant and co-Mashgiach of Kosher Halal Co-op, and she recently completed a term as a program assistant for the Oberlin Kids Community Collaborative, a Bonner Center for Service and Learning community partner, where she worked in data and evaluation.

“Through my work at Oberlin, especially at the Bonner Center, I realized that real community service isn't just showing up; it's learning how to use my specific skills and resources in order to contribute meaningfully to the community in ways that last,” she says.

Kramer will begin her fellowship in early June.