Dashielle Vawter, Organizational Systems

Photograph of Dashielle Vawter

Dashielle Vawter

Organizational Systems Student

Dashielle had always been a systems thinker – even in high school, back before she knew it was an area of study.

As a student studying Peace and Conflict Studies at U.C. Berkeley and as a staff member for non-profits, “I was always asking ‘how can we effectively deal with the prison system if we’re not looking at the education system? How can we deal with the health care system if we aren't examining the food system?’”

Yet most of her classes, and most of her employers, were set up to deal with only one problem at a time. They tended to have a narrow focus that prevented them from addressing big issues. “They were always looking at issues as contained and compartmentalized, and I kept wanting to focus on the ways they connected with each other.”

“Honestly,” she says, “for years I felt trapped by it.”

Dashielle didn’t have the term for it, but she knew that understanding the world and rising to its challenges would require thinking as complex as the problems to be faced.

After graduating from Berkeley she spent three years following her interests through major donor development at Peace Action West, writing and research at the progressive think tank The Rockridge Institute, research at the Electronic Cultural Atlas Initiative, and advance work for Al Franken’s successful Senate campaign in Minnesota. Feeling there had to be a way to take this kind of work to the next level, Dashielle found herself looking into Saybrook's Transpersonal Psychology program on the recommendation of an old professor.

"He told me that Saybrook was one of the two places he'd be happy to see me at, which meant a lot to me coming from him as both my friend and a U.C. Berkeley professor."

Though she had come to learn about Saybrook's Psychology program when she heard the presentation by the Organizational Systems faculty, everything fell into place.

“I didn’t know there was a field like Organizational Systems,” she says. “It immediately resonated with me. I went into the more detailed session, and the more I learned the more I thought ‘This is it, this is what I've been looking for. Saybrook is an intellectual home for me.’ It was like ‘oh, this is what I want to be doing.’ I applied, and that was it.”

She joined the Organizational Systems program, and her MA will specialize in the Leadership of Sustainable Systems. “Right now my interest is in the characteristics of sustainable societies and the empowerment of people to envision something different, and then create it,” she says. “It’s been a really good experience. The people that I’ve met have been really engaging, the materials I’ve been exposed to have inspired me, and the conferences have been truly excellent.”

The conferences in particular reminded her that she is not alone: that there is a growing network of scholars and practitioners who understand that systems thinking is key to solving global problems.

“Students were encouraged to help build the content we would be listening to and participating in,” Dashielle says, “and you had all these people, these working professionals from around the country with experiences and skills to offer, sharing the tools and processes that they were working on in their own work, coming from a place of humility, and everybody really willingly brought themselves and contributed in profoundly authentic ways. It was very inspiring and empowering ... transformative even.”

It’s a perfect match between the systems she loves studying and the progressive work she wants to be doing. “These things just fit together for me,” she says.