School of Public Policy Hosts Beta Test of Student Simulation Competition on Sustainability

 Justin Taylor, Allyson Brauns, Alyssa Ryan, James Hokonya
Left to right: Justin Taylor, Allyson Brauns, Alyssa Ryan, James Hokonya (Photo by Mikayla Coffeen-Vandeven)

The School of Public Policy recently hosted 47 students from across campus who spent a day tackling the crucial question of how to create sustainable cities during a beta test of the NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition.

In the annual international competition, sponsored by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration and the Batten School at UVA, students use real-world data to solve hypothetical but realistic problems through policy development. The theme of the 2020 competition is sustainable cities, with a focus on transportation.

The UMass beta competition took place on Saturday, Jan. 25 in the John W. Olver Design Building. Teams of students worked to develop sustainable transportation policies for fictitious cities based on real U.S. communities, taking into consideration budget restrictions, public health, land use, community engagement and other factors. After several simulation rounds, during which players roleplayed as city managers, transportation commissioners, city treasurers and other municipal leadership positions, the teams wrote policy memos and created presentations on their proposals.

At the end of the day, a panel of expert judges selected the winning team, comprised of Allyson Brauns, a senior anthropology major; James Hokonya, a recent Isenberg School of Management graduate who is entering the School of Public Policy’s Master of Public Policy and Administration program this fall; Alyssa Ryan, a PhD candidate in civil and environmental engineering; and Justin Taylor, a master’s student in sustainability science. The team’s policies focused on reducing dependency on carbon dioxide-emitting vehicles by investing in electric buses and creating alternatives such as more rail service, bike lanes and pedestrian walkways, among other strategies.

The UMass Amherst competition was the first-ever beta test of the NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition. The UMass winners received medals and were invited to travel to official NASPAA-Batten competition sites to serve as student mentors. Those competitions, to be held at eight universities in the U.S. and abroad, will take place in late February and early March.

The volunteer judges for the UMass beta competition were professor Camille Barchers of the department of landscape architecture and regional planning; professor Michael Knodler of civil and environmental engineering and director of the UMass Transportation Center; Tess Perrone Poe of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, who received her master’s in regional planning from UMass Amherst; and professor Marta Vicarelli of the School of Public Policy and the department of economics.

The NASPAA-Batten simulations are developed at the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy’s Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming. Past competitions have focused on migration, pandemics, and food insecurity.