FIU students win regionals of Policy Solutions Challenge USA, advance to nationals

Five graduate students in the FIU Master of Public Administration (MPA) program are heading to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national championship of the Policy Solutions Challenge USA, March 22-23.

The invitation to participate in the finals came after FIU placed first in the South Region Policy Solutions Challenge in late February in Kentucky, where the Panthers beat teams from the University of Kentucky and the University of Arkansas for the win. It is the first time FIU has ever competed in Policy Solutions Challenge USA.

“Competing at regionals was exhilarating,” said Monica Fernandez, a student in the Executive MPA at FIU Brickell cohort and full-time middle school teacher at Coral Gables Preparatory. “The pressure is definitely on to perform at nationals. But we’re continuing to refine and strengthen our work so we can do the best we can and come back with the win for FIU.”

Students in the FIU Master of Public Administration program pose at the 2014 South Region Policy Solutions Challenge USA.

Students in the FIU Master of Public Administration program pose at the 2014 South Region Policy Solutions Challenge USA.

Policy Solutions Challenge USA is a national competition among teams of students from U.S. schools of public policy, public affairs and public administration to develop innovative solutions for the most important policy problems facing the country.

“I really enjoyed participating in the regional competition and look forward to nationals. It’s great being able to network and meet fellow students, faculty and future colleagues there,” said Pablo Haspel, a student in the Weekend MPA at the Broward Pines Center cohort. “But the actual experience of receiving a topic and having to find a solution right then and there is the best experience for me. The reality is, once you get into the profession, this will happen and you will have to problem-solve on the go.”

At the national championship, the FIU team will compete against American University and the University of Utah. The teams will make private presentations to the judges on the first day and receive immediate feedback. Public presentations will occur the following day. At the conclusion of the public presentations, the judges will determine the national champion.

“Participating in this challenge is a great opportunity for our students to put into practice what they are learning in the classroom. In the classroom, their audience consists of me and their peers. At the challenge, they need to present their case in front of a totally different audience, including policy makers, public servants and professionals from other fields,” said N. Emel Ganapati, assistant professor of public administration and the team’s faculty advisor. “I’m so proud of the work our students have put in, many of whom work full-time and have other obligations. They have sacrificed a lot of time and energy in preparing for the challenges.”

Administered by the Department of Public Administration, the MPA program provides individuals with the decision-making leadership and management skills that are necessary to solve the diverse policy and administrative challenges of urban areas at the local, national and international levels. It is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration (NASPAA) and highly ranked by U.S. News and World Report.