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MPP Student Team Participates in First-Ever National Policy Competition

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Policy analysis as competitive sport?

Enter the 2013 Policy Solutions Challenge USA, a new competition designed to show off the skills of the next generation of policymakers.

"This competition sets out to show the public that these students are grappling with some of the most difficult policy issues facing our country, while building camaraderie among policy schools and their students," said founder and SPA faculty member Erik Devereux.

For this year's challenge, participating teams, made up from policy schools around the country, were asked to develop original policy solutions for addressing childhood obesity. Students had just weeks to develop a polished oral presentation and written report they presented to a panel of policy experts.

SPA's team captured one of two winning spots at the Mid-Atlantic regionals, advancing them to the finals, held at AU in March. The SPA team developed a four-pronged approach to childhood obesity, with components ranging from national product labeling to community-based activity programs.

The participating MPP students from SPA, Yvonne Chow, Kelsey Kerle-O'Brien, Melanie Olmstead and Nima Shahidinia, worked creatively to develop their winning presentation, juggling their team roles in between day jobs and night classes.

"It was a very valuable learning experience, and showcased what we as students can accomplish together while also showing us where we needed to improve," said Shahidinia.

Part of the challenge, according to Chow, was making sure their solutions were not only impactful and cost-effective but also politically feasible - in line with the judging criteria as well as principles learned in the classroom. "The competition really showed me how what we're learning in the classroom applies to the real world," said Chow, also an MPP student.

"We got to apply so many tools and skills we've learned," including cost-benefit analyses, literature searches, meta-analyses and outcome matrices, Chow added.

"They've done a great job, and really done some original thinking on the topic," said SPA Professor Allison Jacknowitz. A childhood obesity researcher, Jacknowitz worked with fellow faculty member Sonja Walti to prepare the team for competition.

"They really improved their report over the course of the competition, and became much more sophisticated in their analysis."

Of the 15 teams entering the competition, seven went on to the AU-hosted nationals. First place went to the University of Wisconsin La Follette School of Public Affairs.