ATLANTA—Four graduate students from the Andrew Young School’s Department of Public Management & Policy competed in teams at the NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition in March. MPP student Victor Jones (’20) and his team took second place at Pepperdine University, coming in a point shy of winning.
The NASPAA-Batten gives public policy students an opportunity to apply their knowledge in teams to address a simulated, yet realistic, situation.
The students spend a full day together, taking turns acting as different city officials addressing a shared challenge— in this case, selecting policy leading their city to sustainability. Judging occurred in the final rounds, after the teams had some practice working together.
To participate, students must be nominated and then have their application accepted. Nikolai Elneser Montiel (MPP), Cherella Nicholson (MIS), and Nicole Almeida (MPP) were chosen to compete in teams at Georgetown University while Jones flew to Pepperdine.
400 students from 114 universities in 46 countries ran simulations on a fabricated city, which used population demographics from Atlanta in one of its five districts.
Jones said his degree concentration in environmental policy allowed him to connect with this year’s theme, based on United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal #11, which encourages investment in public transport, creation of green public spaces, and inclusive urban planning for the ever-expanding megacities worldwide.
“We had fully subsidized public transportation because we invested heavily in light rails and installed extensive bike and walking paths,” he said. “And we still ran a positive revenue because we taxed car usage.”
Alongside these good decisions were informative missteps.
“We didn’t anticipate the gentrification that happened as a result of the sustainable features of our city,” Jones said, “which ultimately cost us the win. But participating in the simulation illustrated how different areas of public policy interact, in this case environmental, fiscal and social policy.”
Jones’ new understanding of the complexity of policy making is what Department of Public Management & Police chair, Cathy Liu, hoped for when she nominated Jones and his fellow students.
“This wonderful opportunity shows students that our urban systems are very complicated and any policy change will trigger impacts on many dimensions,” she said.
Jones learned another lesson in the final round, when he got a chance to serve as the city’s mayor.
“Everyone has their own agenda,” he said. “So, I had to quickly consolidate everyone’s opinion into action. The rounds, which started off being 12 minutes long, were 3 minutes by then.”
Jones, who graduated this past May, takes the lessons he learned from participating in the simulation to heart as he begins contemplating his career path.
“The simulation taught me how fast things get overlooked,” he said. In making policy decisions that would move their “city” towards sustainability, “we were gentrifying the city, and we didn’t even realize it. It can happen when you’re just looking at data and policy, so you need to be in touch with the community. I hope I would notice this sort of thing if I had more than three minutes to make the decision!”
This is exactly what Liu anticipated. “The more we tie real world understanding to our classroom teaching, the better we can prepare students to these challenges,” she said.
Jones said he plans to apply this knowledge now in his new position on the City of Smyrna zoning committee and as an elected official in the future.
Story by Sumar Deen