American Univesity of Beirut

PSPA students regional winners at global public policy competition

Sally Abou Melhem, Office of Communcations,​

Over 560 students from 159 universities and 27 countries participated in this year’s NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition organized by the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA), the global standard in public service education. Farah Abou Harb and Natali El Khatib, two of the five participants representing AUB in the competition, were members of the regional winning teams.


The Student Simulation Competition, launched in 2015 to support and encourage more experiential learning in the realm of public policy and administration education, is a daylong event for graduate students of public affairs schools and departments who are members of NASPAA. The students work together to solve a complex public policy problem by using a computer simulation that mimics the process of solving real-world problems. The competition is hosted at different sites around the world, so students travel to a regional competition site and are placed on a team to compete on a pressing public affairs challenge.

AUB students participating at the 2018 competition travelled to the American University in Cairo (AUC), this year’s competition site for the Middle East and North Africa region. Farah Abou Harb and Natali El Khatib shared their experience of the competition.

El Khatib said, “Our intellects were relentlessly challenged as we had to methodically be a step-ahead of such a stressful situation for the sake of lucratively choosing the most efficient and morally-just policies.” 

This year’s competition was on the topic of pandemic crisis management and global health security. Participating students were placed in teams that represent different fictional countries. Each of them played the role of a leading governmental figure, and had to work with governing bodies to analyze data related to the pressing event of a pandemic outbreak of a deadly infectious disease, make policy proposals and decisions, respond to potential outcomes, draft memos with recommendations, and present strategy recommendations to a team of judges.

“Never before was I put in such a real-life situation of managing a conflict within such restraints,” said Abou Harb. “I was placed in a team with two Egyptian students from the American University in Cairo. For almost twelve hours, we had to put ourselves in the shoes of policy makers. We took roles as prime minster, minister of finance and minister of health.” She added, “It was a very challenging situation in which we felt like real change makers.”

According to NASPAA, simulations change the way students approach professional education and challenge their understanding as they are confronted with reality. 

El Khatib explained the impact this experience had on her. She said that the competition provided her with an enriching and invigorating experience, and inspired her to follow her passion for scientific and humanitarian pursuits. “Although hypothetical, encountering such a delicate situation in which innumerable lives were at stake at an exponential rate from the deadly infection was nerve-racking. As a team, we learned to carefully delegate the proper positions in accordance with each team members' set of expertise. We had to quickly adapt to drafting the most viable policies with limited information.”

The day of the competition concluded with the evaluation of the participating teams based on several factors such as their simulation scores and final presentations made to the regional site judges. Winning regional teams were identified to compete among 20 teams selected at the 16 different competition sites around the world. A few days later, a panel of global judges viewed the recorded final presentations and selected a global winning team and a runner-up team.

“It was a great feeling to know that after three years of undergraduate studies and almost two years of graduate studies, what we learned was successfully put into practice,” said Abou Harb. “We were able to prove to ourselves that we’ve got what it takes to excel!”
Dr. Ohannes Geukjian, acting chair of the Department of Political Studies and Public Administration (PSPA) at AUB, accompanied the AUB students participating in the competition. He said: “I should acknowledge that the impact of being a winner was significant on our students because they were able to test their knowledge, wisdom, competency and superiority towards others.” He added that the students put in practice what they have been studying in the PSPA department, and that, in short, “they made knowledge work."

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