As we think about our role in education, we take to heart our responsibility to use education to leave the world better than we found it. In our work, we have come to realize that mathematical modeling inherently provides opportunities for access, equity, and empowerment for every student, and we see in teaching mathematical modeling the opportunity to teach empathetic critical thinking skills. Modeling is a way for students—human beings—to use their mathematical skills in examining different solutions to authentic problems based on different perspectives. Because students bring their own knowledge and perspectives to a modeling problem, it is likely that the modeling process will unfold in different ways for different problems. To help navigate this complexity, we ground our conceptualization of modeling in four big ideas that underpin the classroom practice of mathematical modeling. In this session, we will discuss these four big ideas and explore examples of how they play out in grade 6-12 classroom settings, focusing on how empathy, as a practice, can and should be cultivated in students’ mathematical modeling.