USC Price students advance to finals of national policy competition
A team of graduate students from the USC Price School of Public Policy is headed to Washington, D.C., to compete in the final round of the first Policy Solutions Challenge USA on March 23 and 24 at American University.
Jacquelyn Chou, Paul Chung, Julia Johnson and Rhett-Alexander Paranay already took home first place at the West regional competition in February.
The topic for the challenge is the growing epidemic of childhood obesity. The team developed a written analysis of the underlying factors contributing to childhood obesity and provided three possible federal policy solutions. The competition also includes a 15-minute oral presentation accompanied by no more than 10 slides.
Childhood obesity is a specific area of interest for Johnson, an intern for the Maternal, Child, Adolescent/Adult Center at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.
“It is very relevant to current issues and such a multidimensional problem,” Johnson said. “There isn’t any one solution you can give and say ‘Oh, we solved childhood obesity’ — which made it a good topic for the competition. Twenty percent of children entering kindergarten are already obese. If you are set off to such an unhealthy lifestyle, it’s hard to come back from that.”
The USC Price team defeated host the school University of Washington (UW), the University of Utah, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the Monterey Institute of International Studies to win the West regional. In the national round, USC will again face regional runner-up UW along with Brown University, American University, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Arkansas and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
“Our students’ success is really a testament to the quality program we have at USC Price,” said Diane Yoder, adjunct assistant professor, who served as faculty adviser for the team. “I think our curriculum really develops the skills that are needed to do well in this sort of competition. I would also say that these same skills are what serve our graduates so well when they go out and become working policy analysts.”
The students credited their experience in Yoder’s class, “Foundations of Public Policy Analysis,” with preparing them for the competition. They researched and wrote the initial report in just five days.
“We pretty much treated it like one of the memos she had us write for her class,” Chung said. “We structured it the same way and made the same type of analysis. We just tried to make it a little more professional and a little longer. It made me realize the great instruction we’re getting at USC Price.”
The three policy alternatives suggested by the USC Price team were to eliminate tax deductions for fast-food advertisements, expand the “I am Moving, I am Learning” early childhood intervention program to all Head Start locations and to extend nationwide the Healthy Incentives Pilot that would offer Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program recipients a 30 percent subsidy on the purchase of fruits and vegetables or other healthy foods.
After receiving feedback from the judges in the regional round, the team worked on improving its report for the national competition. Incorporating details learned from the course “Methods for Policy Analysis,” they have focused on adding cost-benefit analysis for projecting the impact these possible solutions would make over the next 20 years.
Though Chou won’t be available to participate in the final presentation in D.C. due to a previous commitment, she did take part in preparing the report that the team will submit. Chou — a third-year dual Master of Public Policy (MPP) and Master of Planning (MPL) student who previously worked at the RAND Corp. in health policy — was credited by her first-year graduate student teammates for the experience and leadership she brought to the project. Paranay is also pursuing MPP/MPL dual degrees.
“I think it’s incredibly valuable for policy students to be forced to take a stand on policy solutions and find what they believe to be most effective,” Chou said. “These are the kind of decisions we will likely be making as professionals.”
Policy Solutions Challenge USA will be presenting the recommendations from all teams to key decision-makers in government to encourage consideration of the new approaches developed by students.
“I think the luxury of having students work on a problem like this is that it can bring innovation and creativity that sometimes professionals immersed in a problem don’t have,” Yoder said. “Hopefully this competition will continue on and deal with other very difficult problems to solve.”