That was the question presented to students all over the country, including those right here in East Greenwich. A broad and daunting question, these students rose to the challenge, facing it head on by participating in the Global Economic Symposium.
The Global Economic Symposium (GES) began seven years ago as a way to encourage students to recognize global economic issues and combat them with financially viable solutions. Composed of both a presentation and Q&A component, the symposium challenges students to think outside of the box and explain the imminence of their selected issue and proposed solution in an efficient manner. It exposes students to multiple areas of need, giving the next generation of business leaders, entrepreneurs, and global influencers a chance to discover how they plan on changing the world for the better.
Having participated in the Global Economic Symposium myself for the past six years, I can truly say that the experience expanded my horizons like nothing else. Not only did the competition strengthen my research and presentation skills, but it also made me reevaluate my view of the world. In no other space had I ever been challenged to assess global issues and find real, feasible solutions for these problems. To be in a setting that encourages applied revolutionary thinking is incredibly empowering, and I am beyond grateful to have been exposed to this opportunity at such a young age. A huge thank you to Mrs. Phyllis Humphrey and Mrs. Kathleen Hook at Cole Middle School for first introducing me to the competition and to EGHS’s Dr. Patricia Page and everyone at Rhode Island Jump$tart for all of their work to make GES happen!
This year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the competition was run exclusively over Zoom. Competitors submitted a pre-recorded presentation of their topic and answered questions through a live Q-and-A session before a panel of judges. Participating at both a middle and high school level, East Greenwich students represented their respective schools in the competition and placed exceptionally well.
In the high school division, EGHS’s cybersecurity team, consisting of Sara Gomez, Cayetano Sanchez IV, Griffin Gee, Clyde Kelly and Kian Bijari, finished second overall. According to Bijari, his team took the competition seriously. “It was nights of normality dissected by research and meetings,” he said. “Compared to research projects I’ve done before, this one had a much more serious air to our conversations. From the beginning we were in the competition to win, and we weren’t going to lose because of poor preparation.”
Their first step, choosing a topic, proved itself to be difficult. After originally settling on vertical farming, they were informed that another team had already selected that topic and were forced to start back at square one. “We had to go back to the drawing board,” Bijari said. “We elected to go with cyber security threats as the basis for our presentation for a few reasons. We thought it was an area that is largely unexplored and unknown economically, and we believed that the subject would be unfamiliar to the judges, thus giving us an edge on other topics they might be better versed in. ”
Elaborating on Bijari’s comments, Gee said, “Especially during the pandemic, cybersecurity proves to be ever more important. We mentioned how our high school was hit with a cyber attack earlier this year, and how it impacted every student who was an online learner. With improved cybersecurity, events like these can be prevented, saving time and money.”
While all of the members of the cybersecurity team agree they learned a lot about their topic, Gee’s favorite part of the experience went beyond the presentation’s research component.
“My favorite part of the experience was working with my team each week to complete our research and prepare for the competition,” said Gee. “Despite how serious we were about completing an intensive project, we still had so much fun working together, and I was really glad to have worked with and improved my relationship with my teammates.”
Similarly, Cole Middle School teams were a force to be reckoned with in the middle school division. The Child Labor team, represented by Joe Barnes, Jayci Tickner, Stephanie Seamans, Natalie Skinnell and Liam Gaffney, placed second, and the Childhood Malnutrition team, consisting of Min Lombardi, Sophia Seamans, Rainen Paquet, and Ani Gomez, placed first.
For Lombardi, the experience was nothing like anything she’d ever done before.
“It was more in depth, which I really liked a lot,” she said. “We spent lots of time researching our ideas, exchanged our thoughts and used our own time to write and create slides.”
Unlike the high school team, Cole’s Childhood Malnutrition team was inspired to choose their topic from a prior experience. “The topic actually was gathered from a field trip in 7th grade,” Min recalled. “During that field trip, my class went to a fantastic company called Edesia. We learned about how they made RUTF (Ready to Use Therapeutic Food) to feed hungry malnourished children around the world. We also learned about the ingredients inside the paste, and how RUTF were shipped globally. When we were choosing a global issue, one of our group members happened to mention malnutrition, which we then focused on and shortened to childhood malnutrition.”
While her team didn’t end up placing, Melody Chen, a member of another CMS team, still found the experience to be enlightening. She said, “My favorite part of the experience was reflecting on how much I learned and pulled from past the few months I got to research with my group. It was definitely worth leaving the event with many more experiences.” For Chen, the preparation she and her teammates did leading up to the presentation is something she will take with her throughout the rest of her academic career. “I do feel more prepared and more experienced for future challenges and events,” she commented. “I think these past few months, including the symposium event itself, have made me more confident in my ability to research and just learn about any important topic.”
Maya Barnes, an EGHS senior, coordinated with fellow seniors Maddie Curnow and me, Jessica Caterson, to be coaches of the middle school team. Having all competed in the symposium ourselves, leading a team through the process was extremely rewarding and enjoyable. “Coaching felt unlike anything I’ve done before, because I have never advised students in an academic setting before,” Barnes said. “I loved it, as I felt like we challenged each other in different ways. I guided them through research, critical thinking and presentation skills, while they reminded me how wonderful it can feel to educate yourself and engage in important conversations.”
Curnow expressed similar sentiments, enjoying the reference and reflection that the opportunity presented.
“This was my fourth year participating in the symposium, but my role looked different this time around,” she said. “I assumed the role of participant in seventh, eighth, and ninth grade. I closed out my last symposium as a coach for the middle school team. It was an extremely rewarding experience in that I worked with some of the brightest middle schoolers, and observed the early stages of passion for change developing as it had for me five years ago. There were several times where I would be talking to the students and would catch glimpses of myself and my peers. It was definitely a full circle moment and I loved complimenting my three years of competition with a closing year of coaching.”
Above all, coaching left the three of us inspired and in awe of our teams. “I feel really proud of my team of Cole Middle School students,” Barnes gushed. “I could not have asked for a better, more hard-working group of kids and I can’t wait to see what they do at the high school.”
She added, “Being able to coach four exceptional young women as a young woman” herself was an inspiring and uplifting experience.
Curnow was similarly awed by her team’s aptitude. She said, “I leave this experience with an overwhelming sense of comfort. This word might seem peculiar given the context of an economic competition that breeds discomfort for inequality. Rather, my comfort comes from Jayci, Joe, Liam, Natalie and Stephanie. They proved their work ethic time and time again, and I know the East Greenwich community will be in good hands as they move on to their final years of middle school or their first years of high school. Their passion has made saying goodbye to this competition a whole lot easier. Massive shoutout to them!”
As for my team – Ani, Min, Rainen, and Sophia – you are all phenomenal students, people, and global citizens. Your passion, dedication, and perseverance throughout this entire process truly blew me away. Your willingness to learn and adapt to new challenges will continue to inspire me for years to come. Working with you all was always the highlight of my week. I could not have asked for a better team of students and I am so proud of all of your hard work. I can’t wait to see where life takes you in the future!
Jessica Caterson is a member of the EGHS Class of 2021.