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U Grad Students Take First Place in National Policy Contest

University of Utah graduate students Anna Brower, Clare Tobin Lence, Laura Briefer (L-R) won the 2014 Policy Solutions Challenge in Washington, D.C.  Brower and Briefer are working on masters degrees in public administration, Tobin Lence, a joint master’s in public policy and public health.

April 2, 2014 — Recently, a three-member team of graduate students from the University of Utah won the national Policy Solutions Challenge competition in Washington, D.C.

The U’s team – Laura Briefer and Anna Brower in the U’s public administration master’s program, and Clare Tobin Lence, working on master’s degrees in both public health and public policy – had already bested teams from the University of Southern California and University of Washington in the western regionals before winning the national honor over other universities that had advanced to the finals.

In the annual competition, teams of students from schools of public policy, public affairs and public administration around the United States are challenged to develop innovative solutions to the most important policy problems facing the country. Judges were from federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Labor.

This year’s topic was improving employment and earnings outcomes for workers 18 to 25 – the age group that has been significantly affected in finding quality employment since the financial crisis of 2008. Teams were asked to develop options for addressing employment and earnings trends for younger workers over the next 20 years.

“I’m ecstatic for our team and our programs,” said Thad Hall, director of the master of public policy and public administration programs at the U. “Our students in this challenge are very impressive. The team was successful because together they developed politically feasible and innovative solutions.”

The three solutions crafted by the team included reforming and expanding the National Registered Apprenticeship Program in order to further develop cost-effective and reciprocal opportunities for meeting employers’ needs while allowing young workers to obtain in-demand skills; promoting increased use of Career Academies in secondary schools to boost both academic performance and students’ chances at securing post-graduation employment;  and expanding microenterprise opportunities that will provide young entrepreneurs with opportunities to create business and nonprofit enterprises.

“This team’s analysis and solutions show evidence of the knowledge and skills each member has gained while in our master’s programs,” said Cathy Chambless, team advisor and research associate in the U’s Center for Public Policy & Administration. “Our high-caliber students have been able to take their graduate experience and develop creative and sustainable solutions for a real-world challenge.”

Brower earned a journalism degree from the University of Denver and is completing a Master of Public Administration at the U. She recently moved from the development director position at the American Civil Liberties Union to a contract public policy advocate position.

Briefer is the water resources manager for the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities and has 20 years of experience working in natural resources and the environment. She is studying public administration at the U.

Tobin Lence is project coordinator at the nonprofit HealthInsight, working to improve the quality of healthcare. She holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Stanford and will complete a joint master program in public policy and public health from the U in May 2014.