Policy analysis competition

Public policy students place in Policy Solutions Challenge held at UD

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3:19 p.m., Feb. 26, 2013--A team of students in the University of Delaware School of Public Policy and Administration (SPPA) took third place in a recent policy analysis competition aimed at devising public policy actions to address the issue of childhood obesity.

The UD team, which was composed of both undergraduate students and a graduate student in SPPA programs, competed in the mid-Atlantic semifinals against public affairs graduate students from American University, Brown University and George Mason University.

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It was the first year that UD students have participated in the annual Policy Solutions Challenge USA event.

"This was the first time any UD student has participated in a challenge event of this sort, and it took time for them to figure it out," said Andrea Sarzynski, assistant professor and the team's adviser. "But our mostly undergraduate team performed admirably against the other graduate-only student teams. In fact, the scoring was quite close at the end."

While the UD team will not advance to the national finals, they will have the opportunity to revise their materials before their work is published on the challenge's website and circulated to policymakers.

One such legislator, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, was in attendance for part of the program, and his legislative aide on health policy, Lynn Sha, served as one of the judges at the event.

Such engagement, both during the event and once completed materials are circulated, makes the experience all the more rewarding for students, says Erik Devereux, a nonprofit consultant as well as the founder and CEO of Policy Solutions Challenge USA.

"The students have three opportunities that did not exist before. The first is to compete against students from other programs in a setting that pushes all participants to achieve their best in policy analysis," he said. "The second is to have an opportunity to engage, network with, and learn from students at other schools. The third is to represent their schools in a very public way that will be noticed by policymakers, the media and the general public."

A key result of the competition will be a set of 15 reports that focus on strategies to approach the issue of childhood obesity and will be circulated to decision makers.

For Devereux, seeing the students in action is the most rewarding part of the annual program.

"They are so pleased to have this opportunity to shine, and to show the world what their education at a public affairs school has prepared them to offer," he said. "And they truly care about finding feasible alternatives to help solve a really difficult and important problem such as childhood obesity."

Allison Becker, a senior majoring in international relations and public policy through the accelerated master's program, said that the experience applied what professors have taught in the classroom to a practical environment.

"It was a really great learning experience," she said. "I hope this is something that SPPA stays involved with."

Sarzynski echoed her sentiment.

"It's one thing for us to explain what is involved with public policy analysis and the skills they will need to be successful in the real world. It is quite another thing for students to try their hand at an analysis of a complex topic on their own with little faculty direction or structure," she said. "The students will now be much more prepared to engage in professional policy analysis after graduation, and for that, I see the challenge as being an invaluable learning experience."

Ben Wallace, a first-year graduate student in the Disaster Science and Administration program, said he was attracted to the challenge because of his long-term interest in working on policy development after graduation.

Another member of the team, Brinda Shah, is a senior studying public policy and public health. She said she was drawn to the opportunity for the chance to learn more about the topic and see how policy analysis occurs in practical situations outside of the classroom.

Aside from delving into a complicated topic that is pertinent in the public health arena today, Shah appreciated the chance to work closely with a team of students sharing different views and visions for the future.

"To be able to work with four other members with different and important views on childhood obesity is an accomplishment in itself," she said. "The team has been great with working together and respecting each other's views, and being able to integrate them all into one."

For more information and to see the UD student materials once they are posted, visit this website.

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