2018 Competition: the Pandemic Game

The 2018 NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition was held February 22-23 and March 2-3, 2018.  

Participants in the 2018 competition—the largest-ever student simulation competition in higher education–were confronted the spread of an infectious disease. Over the course of the competition, participants—primarily graduate students in public policy and related fields—went through four hour-long rounds of the simulation, wrote two policy memos, then presented their policy recommendations to judges at the site.

This competition beat all previous participation records: over 500 students from 27 countries participated. These students came from 159 different universities and formed 130 teams at 15 competition sites worldwide.

The simulation itself was an interactive, stochastic, real-time game where participants are challenged to make difficult public policy decisions. Participants take on roles as government ministers (Prime Minister, Minister of Communication, etc.) and must work together as a team, interacting with other governments in a fast-paced environment. Participants must develop strategies to preserve global health, choose policies to contain the pandemic, and handle the political and economic ramifications of their decisions.

You can find more information about the Pandemic Simulation–now available for classroom use!–at the Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming website.

On April 16, 2018, NASPAA and the University of Virginia Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy announced the winners. A team of five students competing at the San José State University College of Social Sciences took First Place, each receiving $1,500 USD from the Batten School’s Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming (CLSG). The winning team included:

  • Brian Cauley, San Francisco State University
  • Mariana Duenas, Golden Gate University
  • Jessie Escobar, University of San Francisco
  • Jessika Hall, Naval Postgraduate School
  • Victoria Padilla, California State University, Chico

The San José State University College of Social Sciences host site was led by Professors Frannie Edwards and Matthew Record.

“This is the only global simulation in public policy education I know of that brings grad students together from all different countries to address a common policy problem and learn from each other,” said NASPAA Executive Director Laurel McFarland. “Our hope is they will graduate and go out into the real world in a year or two with a heightened understanding of global health insecurity and a desire to contribute to its eradication wherever they might end up working.”

This year’s competition connected more than 500 students from 159 universities and 27 countries through computer-based simulated game play at 15 global host sites. The simulation, developed by experts at the CLSG and backed by extensive real-world data, placed competing students in leadership roles within a fast-paced environment where they worked together to minimize the impact of a deadly infectious disease. Students worked in teams representing four fictitious countries and assumed a variety of high-ranking roles, from Prime Minster to Minister of Public Health, as they navigated difficult policy decisions and their potential outcomes.

“My goal in designing this computer simulation and the overall educational outcome for the competition was simple: to make it immersive so that each student can benefit from experiential learning prior to going out into the real world,” said CLSG Director Noah Myung. “Students had to make complicated analytical decisions with limited information, were required to write multiple policy memos, and finally make a decision briefing to world-class experts. It was a policy boot camp for our students!”

Nearly 130 participating teams were evaluated on simulation participation, negotiation skills, and presentations made to regional site judges, who selected 22 regional winners. A panel of prominent, international “super judges” determined the global winners: the first-place team; a tie for second place between five students competing at the Arizona State University’s School of Public Affairs and three students competing at the University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy and Governance; and four students competing at Cornell University Institute of Public Affairs in third place. Each second-place winner will receive $500 USD from NASPAA and the CLSG, and NASPAA will provide each third-place winner with $150 USD.

The super judges had an extremely challenging task of identifying the top teams of the 2018 NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition. They utilized NASPAA criteria to evaluate student performance – with regards to management, policy skills and awareness. Judges looked at how balanced student approaches to mitigating a pandemic crisis were – whether they demonstrated consciousness of the globally interdependent nature of a pandemic crisis. They paid attention to whether students considered tradeoffs and used cost-benefit analysis when making decisions. Judges like Dr. James described his process as follows: “ In scoring, I looked at how the team managed a pandemic: the sequence to deal with the pandemic, a smart financing system (with the restaurant tax representing a larger issue of revenues to combat pandemics), and whether/how they were able to describe the process and approach to managing the crisis day by day.”

Dr. Macgregor-Skinner was “looking for awareness of the big picture, the need to manage so many pieces and players, so much complexity.” Dr. Zhou was especially interested in the organization of teams – how the team members worked together to produce results – through their memos and presentations.

This is the first time in three years that a U.S. based team has won the competition. The first-place team of the 2017 NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition on Food Security competed at the Universidad de los Andes site in Bogotá, Colombia. In the coming months, the CLSG will devise a classroom version of the simulation and make it available free of charge for the next three years. NASPAA will distribute the free classroom version to over 300 member schools.

Congratulations to San José State University for producing the 2018 NASPAA-Batten Simulation Competition Champs!

First Place

San José State University College of Social Sciences

  • Brian Cauley, San Francisco State University
  • Mariana Duenas, Golden Gate University
  • Jessie Escobar, University of San Francisco
  • Jessika Hall, Naval Postgraduate School
  • Victoria Padilla, California State University, Chico

Second Place

Arizona State University’s School of Public Affairs

  • Benjamin Bass, Southern Utah University
  • Hayden English, University of Texas at Austin
  • Victoria Laskey, University of Colorado Denver
  • Rebecca McCarthy, Arizona State University
  • Breck Wightman, Brigham Young University

University of Washington Evans School of Public Policy

  • Kerry Edinger, University of Oregon
  • Jil Heimensen, Portland State University
  • Sam Malloy, The Ohio State University

Third Place

Cornell University Institute of Public Affairs

  • Muhammad Saad Arshad, Syracuse University
  • Bethany Jones, Cornell University
  • Nida Mahmud, Cornell University
  • Joseph Vervalin, Cornell University

Special Category Winners Announced

Today, special category winners were also announced. Each of the special category winners will receive $50 USD and a book pertaining to global pandemic crisis management.

Most Globally Cooperative Teams – teams that best represented good cooperation among students of diverse cultural backgrounds.

American University in Cairo

  • Ibrahim Gholeh, Al-Quds University
  • Farah Abou Harb, American University of Beirut
  • Mahmoud Shoman, The American University in Cairo

University of International Business and Economics


  • Aigerim Baimaganbetova – Nazarbayev University
  • Xi Huang – Nanyang Technological Institute
  • Shuo Jiang – Southwestern University of Finance and Economics
  • Trent Lawrence – Tsinghua University
  • Philip Lu – National University of Singapore

Most Collaborative Team
– team that demonstrated a good group effort while representing diverse individual perspectives.

Carnegie Mellon University

  • Sarah Henry – American University
  • Justin Hurt – George Mason University
  • Emily Langston – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • Daniyal Rahim – Rutgers University New Brunswick

Most Resilient Team
– team that best learned from its mistakes and was able to most effectively articulate these in the final presentation.

School of Public Policy Central European University

  • Angelita Bombarda – School of Public Policy Central European University
  • Khatia Labadze – Georgian Institute of Public Affairs
  • Inge Paemelaere – Ghent University

Strongest Conceptual Framework
– team with thoroughly organized ideas and conceptual distinctions.

Universidad de los Andes and Universidad del Rosario

  • Andrea Carolina Jacobo Cruz – Universidad de Guanajuato
  • Alejandro Moreno – Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de México
  • Paola Catalina Zambrano Galleguillos – Universidad del Rosario

Best Communications Strategy
– team that focused on having an effective comprehensive communications strategy to mitigate deadly impacts of the global pandemic.

Baruch College

  • Alexander Brockwehl – Princeton University
  • Luke Christie – Long Island University – Brooklyn
  • Daniel Desrochers – University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • Jessica Kennedy – Saint Peter’s University
  • Ian Mangione – University of Connecticut