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ASU student's team earns second place in global public policy simulation competition

Team from ASU regional site that placed second in the 2018 NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition

From left to right: Benjamin Bass of the University of Southern Utah; Victoria Laskey of the University of Colorado, Denver; Rebecca McCarthy of Arizona State University; Hayden English from the University of Texas, Austin; and Breck Wightman of Brigham Young University. The team placed second among 139 competing in the 2018 NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition.

April 18, 2018

A team of five students, including one from Arizona State University, tied for second place in the 2018 NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition — the largest student public policy simulation competition in the world.

Teams made up of graduate students from 159 universities and 27 nations competed at host sites, including ASU, in February and March. The simulation put students in leadership positions of fictitious countries and tasked them with minimizing the impact of a deadly infectious disease. They were given extensive real-world data, and with little time, asked to work together to prevent the outbreak from becoming a pandemic on a continent with four very different countries.

The winning team from the ASU regional round was comprised of students from five schools: Rebecca McCarthy of ASU's School of Public Affairs; Breck Wightman of the Romney Institute of Public Management at Brigham Young University; Victoria Laskey of the University of Colorado, Denver School of Public Affairs; Benjamin Bass of the University of Southern Utah and Hayden English from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, Austin.

“The competition provided an incredible experience to network and work with students from other universities in a fast-paced, intellectual team environment,” McCarthy said. “To be part of the regional winning team was exciting to begin with, but when I found out that our team was the second place global winner, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing!”

The team from the ASU School of Public Affairs regional site tied for second with a team that competed at the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy and Governance. A team of Northern California graduate students hosted by San Jose State University’s College of Social Sciences won first place. Third place went to a team competing at Cornell University Institute of Public Affairs. Cash prizes of $1,500, $500, and $150 will be awarded to first, second and third place students from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) and the University of Virginia’s Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

A team of “super judges” evaluated the simulation scores, negotiation skills, and presentations that 22 winning regional teams made to site judges. Yushim Kim, an associate professor in the ASU School of Public Affairs and an expert on public health services and management, served as a regional site judge. She praised the ASU regional site team members for their ability to adapt their proposals during the competition.

“Two policy memos written by the ASU site winning team showed that the group slightly changed their recommendations based on the characteristics of the countries involved,” Kim said.

Giving students the ability to make such important decisions in a rapidly-evolving situation will help them as they seek careers in developing and implementing public policy,

"My goal in designing this computer simulation and the overall educational outcome for the competition was simple: to make it immersive so that each student can benefit from experiential learning prior to going out into the real world,” said Noah Myung, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. “Students had to make complicated analytical decisions with limited information, were required to write multiple policy memos, and finally make a decision briefing to world-class experts. It was a policy boot camp for our students."

And it’s a boot camp that ASU School of Public Affairs graduate student Rebecca McCarthy hopes benefits many more students in future competitions.

One of those who watched her team compete was Don Siegel, director of the ASU School of Public Affairs. He was impressed by the team’s ability to analyze data and present well thought out recommendations. He gives McCarthy kudos for her role in helping earn her team second place among almost 130 teams competing worldwide.

“The most notable aspect of Rebecca’s performance was her ability to blend theory and practice to develop a practical solution to a difficult problem,” Siegel said. “We strive to develop this skill in our students and it’s a real joy to see them display it before a large audience.”

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