home > News & Events > News > Kristen Vilcans Receives 2020 SDM Student Award for Leadership, Innovation, and Systems Thinking

The 2020 MIT SDM Student Award for Leadership, Innovation, and Systems Thinking has been presented to Kristen Vilcans. Kristen joined SDM in the fall of 2019 and has consistently demonstrated her dedication to fostering strong connections among her communities.

Kristen has served on the SDM Student Leadership Committee as the community chair and currently serves as the committee president. She also supported SDM’s connections with the larger graduate community, serving on the Sloan Senate and co-chairing the Sloan community committee, and represented SDM on the MIT Graduate Student Council. 

Much of Kristen’s time since the spring of 2020 was spent on a spinout from an MIT Media Lab class that was originally known as COVID SafePaths and is now the PathCheck Foundation. PathCheck is an open-source project for digitized contact tracing and notification during the Covid-19 pandemic. She served as the head of the foundation think tank and communications team, leading fifty contributors in their work and overseeing media relations. The technology is currently powering the COVID Alert Mobile App for Guam. The team also worked with multiple jurisdictions in the U.S. and worldwide to launch their exposure notification apps.

In addition to her work at MIT and the PathCheck Foundation, Kristen also works at Draper as a systems engineer, where she served as the networking chair for Women@Draper. 

Additional finalists for the award included Elizabeth Baker, nominated for her work with the SDM integrated core team and supporting connection for distance students, and Ben Jun-Hong Tang, recognized for his tenure as president of SDM’s Student Leadership Committee and efforts in maintaining cohesion for the program student body during the Covid-19 campus shutdown.

Established in 2010, the Student Award for Leadership, Innovation, and Systems Thinking recognizes a student who has completed their first year in the program and demonstrates: 

  • the highest level of strategic and sustainable contributions to fellow SDM students;
  • superior skills in leadership, innovation, and systems thinking; and
  • outstanding ability to work effectively and collaboratively with SDM staff, faculty, students, alums, and industry, as well as in the greater MIT community. 

The award is voted on by the System Design and Management program staff, though students are encouraged to nominate their peers.