The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

Students are teaming up to address real-world problems by making their own public policy.

Five teams advanced to the final round of the Fourth Annual Fels Public Policy Challenge, an interdisciplinary competition that requires students to create innovative solutions to real world problems. The final round will take place on Feb. 24.

The workload required to participate in the Fels Challenge is significant. Students from all five teams stated that they have invested a lot both in terms of time and energy.

“I would say it’s been about 10 hours a week on average,” Master’s of Public Administration candidate Mary Porth said. “We’ve been meeting with a lot of people, fine tuning the idea and then just getting feedback and actually creating the proposal and PowerPoint presentations and preparing the pitches.”

Despite the large commitment, the participants generally feel positively towards the competition.

“I don’t know how other schools organize these things but to me it seems that sometimes policy solutions are developed without talking to constituents and state holders and without considering the financial means and political consequences,” said MPA candidate Elizabeth Tatum. “[The competition] is asking you not to just come up with a good idea but also to come up with an idea that’s plausible to influence tomorrow.”

The Daily Pennsylvanian takes a look at the five finalists.

Smart Justice

Smart Justice, created by a team of Penn graduate students is an inventive solution to address the difficulties of the parole system in Philadelphia by building electronic kiosks in poor neighborhoods for low-risk probationers to use.

Master’s of Criminology student Walter Campbell explained that the current parole situation presents two problems. First, it requires people on parole to report to Center City to meet with their parole officer. However, very few of these probationers live in Center City. Additionally, the shortage of funding for parole officers detracts from their ability to spend more time with people under higher probation, “people who we actually need to worry about,” Campbell said.

The kiosks are specifically for those who are on low-probation and would allow parole officers to dedicate more time to those on high-probation.

Campbell added that the problem with probation is part of the larger issue of crime in the city. “Specifically, high level crime in Philadelphia is done by people in high probation.”

The smart justice team believes that their proposal is likely to have a good impact on the larger Philadelphia community.

“Our idea is really unique and I think it’s a very feasible plan that we have,” Berger said. “We are using technology to streamline this project that is very underfunded in Philadelphia right now.”

Team: Campbell, third-year Law School student and MPA candidate Kevin Krainz and Master’s of Criminology candidates Allison Berger and Julie Gibson

Faith and Farmers Winter Initiative

This project provides one solution to the problem of food access in lower income communities in Philadelphia.

Currently, there are several neighborhoods in Philadelphia — known as food deserts — in which most of the food comes solely from the corner grocery store, and as a result, is not high in nutritional content.

The Faith and Farmers Winter Initiative intends to expand on the work of a nonprofit organization, Food Trust in Philadelphia, to bring farmer’s markets to religious institutions weekly, right when services end.

“From what we can tell there are low start-up costs to make this happen and it doesn’t specifically rely on a lot of funding from the city,” said Billy Werner, a MPA candidate in Fels. “Even though it’s kind of a simple plan, the lesson that we learned from doing this is that sometimes the best ideas are actually the simplest ideas.”

Team: Werner, along with fellow Fels MPA candidates Jason Laughlin, Arianne Sellers and Pat Christmas.


It’s easy to forget an upcoming doctor’s appointment.

Re:mind is an appointment reminder service that will notify recentlydischarged mental health patients about their initial outpatient care appointment.

The service would have hospital employees send a reminder via email, text, or by phone to the patient.

“A large part of the reason that [mental health patients] miss that appointment is because they simply forgot about it. This program increases the chances that they will go to future appointments,” Undergraduate Assembly President and College junior Dan Bernick, who is one of the members on the team, said.

According to Bernick, it’s very important that recently discharged patients attend their first outpatient appointments to set them on the right path to recovery.

Bernick feels that this service is both affordable and in accordance with the general goals of hospital officials.

“It’s very much a win, win, win,” Bernick said. “It’s a very targeted invention … inexpensive and the savings dwarf the cost.”

Team: Initiated by Undergraduate Assembly president and College junior Dan Bernick, Master’s of Social Work candidate in the School of Social Policy & Practice Kayla Cheatham, medical student and Master’s of Bioethics candidate in the Perelman School of Medicine Meghan O’Brien and School of Nursing doctoral student Molly Kreider


One group of students wants to help the population of West Philadelphia with mental health stressors.

The team believes that schools in the area lack resources for students with mental and emotional needs.

The plan proposes to create interdisciplinary graduate student health teams that will work with school age children in West Philadelphia for either a semester or a year to provide mental health services. They plan to send one counselor, one social worker and one nurse into the schools.

“My feeling is that the services and expertise of graduate students has not been fully exploited,” Elizabeth Tatum, a first-year MPA candidate at Fels, said. “The goal [of Penn PUPIL] would be to establish relationships and continuity not only for the students and the school involved but also for the professional development and experience of Penn grad students.”

Team: Tatum, MPA candidate Allison Book-Arango, College junior Priyanka Varma, and Wharton MBA candidate Adrian Fang


The final project, FitPhilly, is a location-based mobile application for smartphones that aims to make a single data base for all things health-related in Philadelphia.

“We wanted to address health behavior in Philadelphia and make it easier for people who are looking to change their bad habits,” Mary Porth, a MPA candidate in Fels, said.

The app will provide information about healthy food options, doctor’s offices and the closest gym based on the user’s location.

Team: Porth, Annenberg School for Communication doctoral students Devon Brackbill Jingwen Zhang and MPA candidate in Fels Lauren Kobylarz.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.