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Graduate students from nine Penn schools skirmished for the grand prize of $10,000 to further their proposed public policy change in Philadelphia this Sunday.

Beaming bright lights illuminated the studio at WHYY radio station. The groups of students stood facing the audience and a panel of judges. Out of the five semifinalists, the group Closing Schools, Opening Opportunities won the grand prize.

The Public Policy Challenge is a campus-wide student competition hosted by the Fels Institute of Government where students pitch a policy proposal to affect positive change in their community.

“We like to think that [the Challenge is] the kind of thing Ben Franklin would have been involved in,” said David Thornburgh, the executive director of the Fels Institute. “It’s a very Penn kind of a project.”

Long before the final 21 contestants made their pitch on Sunday, over 100 other hopefuls from 14 other groups envisioned a different policy change.

The group Liberty Bike Share was lucky to survive to the semifinal round of five teams, but lost two teammates on the way. Nursing graduate student David Bendell says the Public Policy Challenge is a very time- and labor-intensive process and with a job and coursework, the commitment can be too much.

For the rest of Liberty Bike Share, however, commitment certainly was not a problem.

After School of Design graduate student Rachel Aland joined Liberty Bike Share as its third member, the group members dedicated themselves to the cause.

Their proposal is to bring a bike sharing program to Philadelphia similar to ones seen in other major cities like Washington D.C. and New York.

The program would encourage healthy living by biking rather than using other forms of transit. It is also far cheaper for commuters, cuts down pollution and could bring in large revenues for the city. The positive effect on the Philadelphia community would be significant.

Unfortunately for Liberty Bike Share, four other teams had proposals of an equally impressive caliber.

A group, Educa Philly, proposed to create a Spanish radio station to increase participation in children’s education in the Latino community.

Triple Helix Care: A Medical Home Model For Philadelphia proposed linking the three major health care providers in Philadelphia, streamline health care options and help families save money.

Closing Schools, Opening Opportunities proposed to remodel the closing schools in the Philadelphia area and then sell them to community members who could turn the buildings into gyms, offices or residences.

Finally the fifth team, Philly Benefits Bus, proposed using buses to increase the accessibility of welfare benefits. Philly Benefits Bus would fashion buses to drive around the city and provide information and applications for welfare programs to residents in high-poverty neighborhoods.

The Closing Schools, Opening Opportunities team will advance to the national competition to be held at the National Constitution Center on April 22.

Fels Institute graduate student Nancy Altemus said, “All the topics that are being addressed are vital … the decision makers in the city will benefit from seeing young people actively engaged.”

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