Regional Winners of the 2020 NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition

This past spring, approximately 400 students from 114 universities in 46 countries competed in the largest-ever student simulation competition in higher education, hosted by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) and the University of Virginia Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy Center for Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming. The 2020 NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition focused on SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities by asking participants to participate in the web-based Metropolitan: A Sustainable Transit Simulation.

U.S. host sites included: Pepperdine University, University of Texas at Arlington, The Ohio State University, George Mason University, and University at Albany. UNA-USA Youth Engagement Manager Anna Mahalak interviewed these site winners to learn about their real-world takeaways from the competition and which policies they found most effective.

Pepperdine University Site Winning Team:

Team Members: Victoria Williams, Oregon State University; Kevan Mellendick, Naval Postgraduate School; Georgina Perez, University of La Verne; and Bridger Langfur, University of California San Diego.

Policies Initiated: Some of the major policies this team implemented in the simulation included zoning regulations, building denser buildings to add community green space, parking fees for downtown parking, and mixed-method housing. Kevan explained that in order to ensure that people did not have to commute as much to “downtown” they changed zoning restrictions to ensure businesses could flourish in the various “boroughs” of the city. This made for shorter commutes and increased economic opportunities/access to decent work (a core pillar of the UN Sustainable Development Goals).

Real World Implications: In the simulation, the team experienced that the more extreme the shift in policy, the more it cost to implement. We see how this is applicable to real-world policies as well. The team sought to do more incremental shifts in policy over time and used community engagement to build support for the policies.

Overall Takeaways: This team viewed the competition through an economic lens. As Kevan Mellendick said, “You need to have the background and particular circumstances in mind when applying policy […] You can’t treat every borough the same.”

University of Texas at Arlington Site Winning Team:

Team Members: Amanda Partridge, University of Arkansas Little Rock; Macee Spencer, Louisiana State University; Jodeen Shillingford, Grambling State University; Aparajita Datta, University of Houston; and Anushree Deb, University of Texas at Austin.

Policies Initiated: “Within the group there was an agreement to the fact that this was not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Aparajita Datta. This team implemented a variety of different strategies. They focused on incentivizing public transportation (not just green cars) and holistically looked at traffic patterns. They taxed specific districts that had financial resources. They also made efforts to increase and improve green space.

Real World Implications: “Everything kept circling back to engagement,” added Macee Spencer. “Everything you do in public policy has to come back to the citizens and the residents of the area […] You can do all the policy but if you don’t have buy-in and communication with those who it’s affecting it’s not going to be successful.”

Overall Takeaways: “Going into the competition when I thought about sustainability, I thought about it from an environmental standpoint. This created awareness for me that it is important to also look at how the citizens and how they live, their access jobs, their standard of living, and things like that,” explained Jodeen Shillingford.

The Ohio State University Site Winning Team:

Team Members: Megan Selzler, University of North Dakota; Matthew Galloway, Northern Illinois University; Nino Lazariia, Indiana University Bloomington; Amanda Dawkins, University of Pittsburgh; and Samantha Bigelow, Western Michigan University.

Policies Initiated: “What we tried to push for at the individual/neighborhood level was encouraging walkability […] We wanted to make public transportation available for longer rides between the districts,” Mandy Dawkins explained. Megan Selzler added, “We focused on making neighborhoods look green and beautiful, and adding trees to a district. This helped us have a good CO2 score.” Increasing bikeshare options and mixed-use developments across all districts were also strategies the team used.

Real World Implications: In this simulation, as in real life, adaptability was key. “When we found something that didn’t work, we were able to reassess,” said Mandy Dawkins. Samantha Bigelow added, “We were all receptive to each other’s ideas.” In his own community, Matt Galloway noted, “I’ve started paying attention to my community’s walkability both where I live and where I work.” The team recognized the overall implications sustainable cities and smart transportation can have on tackling climate change and the extreme relevance of that issue to today’s population.

Overall Takeaways: “The competition was extremely helpful […] it helped to teach us managerial skills and problem-solving skills as well as creativity and critical thinking,” said Nino Lazariia. “I still use it in my everyday life while evaluating projects.” The team also emphasized the importance of taking advantage of these types of opportunities in an academic program. “A lot of your graduate program is what you put into it,” explained Megan. Matt and Mandy added, “Take the opportunity to participate.” And “Everything is an opportunity to expand your skills.”

George Mason University Site Winning Team and First Place Global Winners of the 2020 NASPAA-Batten Simulation:

Team Members: Dontavious Waller, Georgia Southern University; Elizabeth Carter, University of Georgia; Kathryn Charpin, George Washington University; Rudolf-Victor de Leon Dinglas, University of Maryland Baltimore County; and Leah Roach, Regent University.

Policies Initiated: The team focused on reducing CO2 emissions, access to public infrastructure such as bike lanes/trains and improving bus routes. They also focused on equity issues such as access to affordable housing and job creation and accessibility. By dividing the individual districts within the city to individuals on the team, it allowed each person to recommend proposals specific to the district, while recognizing that those policies would also impact the city as a whole. “Everything is connected in sustainability – the residual effect ripples out,” said Kathryn Charpin. “By increasing one thing, it impacted something you didn’t realize was connected.”

Real World Implications: Dontavious “DJ” Waller pointed out that just as you see City Council members focused on their ward/area, their team divided up the districts and pushed for an agenda and customized response that would benefit their region while simultaneously supporting their team’s goals to reduce CO2 emissions.

Rudy de Leon Dinglas brought up the fact that the diversity of backgrounds brought by individuals on the team also contributed to their success. In order to maximize performance as a team, it was important to “have different backgrounds represented” and “find the strengths of each person.”

Overall Takeaways: Each member of the team shared their own takeaways for UNA-USA members on how to advocate and get more involved in sustainability efforts.

  • “Involve the students. We involve the academic talent that we bring in the work that we do.” – Rudy de Leon Dinglas
  • “Individuals from different backgrounds and the value of interdisciplinary approach cannot be underestimated.” – Liz Carter
  • “With every change you’re trying to make, try to calculate the ripple of its effect.” – Kathryn Charpin
  • “Add more trees. That was our team’s motto. Small things can lead to big things.” – Leah Roach
  • “No matter what [policy] you do, look at the people it impacts.” – DJ Waller

University at Albany Site Winning Team:

Team Members: Katherine Long, Cornell University; Jeremy Smith, Marist College; Haima Askari, University of Virginia; Ruiling Tu, University of Virginia; and Melissa Bailey, Villanova University.

Policies Initiated: “We didn’t try to do everything all at once. We incrementally made changes,” explained participant Jeremy Smith. Community engagement was key to their approach in the simulation, and this was supported by the team’s collective real-world experience in city and transportation management. Haima Askari added that the team also focused on equity in their policies, which could not be reflected fully in the data of the simulation “but is incredibly important to cities.” Melissa Bailey further explained the team’s approach to engagement: “We cannot forget who our constituency is and how we present policy to them, how we engage them in the process […] That played a role in how we implemented those policies. No policy is the same across the board when it comes to the impact that it has on those different constituencies.”

Real World Implications: “In real life, and in the simulation, you have to talk to everyone involved,” explained Katherine Long. “We made every decision as a group, as a team. We had all our hats on at all times.”

Jeremy Smith noted the importance of data in the simulation, and the importance of data in real-world decision making: “If you can present things by using data, that information really tells a story.”

The team brought their academic and career experience into the simulation with them, but also took lessons from the simulation back into their work. Soon after the competition, the COVID-19 crisis made it necessary to adjust and implement new transportation policies to slow the spread of the virus, but also to ensure essential workers could reach hospitals, and the most vulnerable populations had routes to grocery stores. The adaptability and responsiveness required in the simulation was mirrored in this real-life response to our current health crisis.

Overall Takeaways: “Community engagement is a big part of the simulation and it’s a big part of how cities operate,” said Haima Askari. Melissa Bailey added how important it is to learn about all the issues that impact sustainability, even down to the details of the local government budget. She added, “Learn everything you can. Go to City Council meetings. Or even start up your own group of interested citizens. Knowledge is power.”