Ford students "exercise" to open 2012 with policy simulation

January 23, 2012

The Ford School's MPA and MPP cohorts quickly turned their attention at the start of 2012 from "NYE" to "IPE."

The Integrated Policy Exercise is an intensive, three-day simulation in which students work en masse on a number of policymaking scenarios that are simultaneously evolving.

"You have to come up with solutions at the same time other crises are happening around you," said Professor Ann Lin, who organized the IPE this year. "The IPE really gives students a chance to see what working in a dynamic policy environment looks like."

This year's simulation revolved around the alleged poisoning of waterways along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas, sparking a public health crisis amongst the region's poor rural communities, called colonias. Subsequent developments helped the scenario run the gamut, with implications for immigration policy, as well as commerce, energy dependence, homeland security, public health, and poverty.

"I thought we got down to some of the intricacies of immigration policy and how that process will play out at the various levels of government," said second-year MPP Justin Tooley. "I think that we saw some of the complexities of setting and enacting policy and I thought we saw the partisan battle on both sides of the aisle on this issue."

Students worked toward a variety of deliverables, dependent upon their role in the simulation.

Members of the Joint Homeland Security Committee invited a number of groups to speak at a hearing. Groups not asked to testify for Friday's hearing had to prepare a demonstration to advocate for their policy issue. Petitions and poster boards were pervasive throughout Weill Hall; one group even roped off the building's drinking fountains and restrooms with caution tape to warn of "contaminated" water. Meanwhile, a team of enterprising journalists representing Fox News, NPR and Univision spent hours producing daily recaps of each day's progress, giving some students a chance to really jump into character.

"I think for the most part people played their roles to the best of their abilities," said Tooley, who was voted by his classmates "Most Realistic" for his portrayal of U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ). "There was a lot of energy from the media team and I think they added a realistic dimension."

No one raised the bar higher than second-year MPP Gabe Krieshok, who, representing the Center for Biological Diversity, interrupted the Congressional hearing as "Sunny the Sonoran Pronghorn Antelope," protesting for environmental safeguards along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Along with second-year MPPs Lauren Cotter and Betsy Palazzola, the group received "Best Presentation" and "Most Dramatic" awards. Sunny, who came from a costume store in Ypsilanti, took "Best Dressed" honors.

"I came away feeling there are no set rules [to IPE]," Krieshok said. "You don't just have to show up in a suit and have a really prescribed role; you can sort of have fun with it and play with the idea. You can really think about what your team and your actor is going to be doing in the real world."

Prof. Lin ensured the simulation was grounded in reality by arranging conference calls and Skype interviews with real-life policy professionals – often the very individual the students were portraying, such as Leisa Brug, Energy Policy Advisor for the Arizona Governor's Office. Students were able to ask questions to help them better understand their roles and the scenario they faced.

"The IPE is really a lot of fun to teach; it's one of the most creative classes in our curriculum," Prof. Lin said. "It's entirely different from the regular classes we teach."

[See more photos from the 2012 IPE on Flickr.]