Every year, the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) and the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy host a student simulation competition. The NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition is a worldwide event; NASPAA estimated that 563 students representing 27 countries and 159 universities competed this year.
In 2016, the competition tackled climate change. In 2017, it tackled food shortages. This year, it was about a global pandemic. We were divided in advance into teams. We competed in four rounds, taking on the role of a new fictional country each time to fight off a massive influenza pandemic. Each country had a different economy, different natural resources and industries, a different style of government, etc. Teams also had to write policy memos analyzing decisions and outcomes, and formulate a solution to prevent and mitigate future pandemics.
I took part in this simulation because I wanted to challenge myself, apply what I have learned in the Master of Public Administration program. I also thought it would be a fun way to meet new people in the policy world and learn about their programs.
It was my first time competing in a simulation, and I’m happy to report that my team won! My team was fantastic; Prakesha (Georgetown), Claire (Carnegie-Mellon), Kathryn (University of Virginia), and Alexandra (George Mason University) were such great collaborators. We bonded over being policy nerds, strategized with each other, and steadily improved each round. We used our smarts and collaboration skills to take home a medal this year.
While I don’t have a background in medicine or global pandemics, it wasn’t necessary. The simulation required, more than anything else, students who are policy-minded and who could think creatively, quickly, and decisively.
My courses in the MPA program at CPAP helped me apply theories and practices to make policy decisions during the simulation. For example, in PAPA 6214, Policy Processes, I learned to analyze existing policy decisions and form a good policy argument in response. This class helped me during the competition because my team could analyze quickly our own decisions and data from competition to look for areas of improvement, and conduct a very quick trend analysis that informed the recommendations we proposed in our memo.
Being in the MPA program and writing policy memos and papers has helped me be a clearer communicator, which was extremely useful during the competition. The simulation had a built-in chat tool that allowed countries to communicate with each other, and my team used it to collaborate with others to negotiate partnerships, exchange data, continue trade, and offer aid. These decisions didn’t seem to factor into the computerized score in each round of competition, but the judges were watching us the entire time and asking us questions about how well we were working with other countries. I think our constant communication with each other and other countries helped us win.
The competition challenges you to work on a tight schedule and attempt to make the best combination of decisions to help your simulated country. In this way, it made me rethink my strategy each time and find the best ways to collaborate with my group. The competition was well-organized, challenging and you also get to meet several students from out of town. I would highly recommend it to other VT students!
Joanne Tang is a student in the Center for Public Administration and Policy (CPAP) program within the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA). Ms. Tang started the MPA program in Fall’ 2016 and she anticipates graduating in Spring’ 2019. Currently, she is working as a contractor in the homeland security community.