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School of Social Work graduate students place first in policy proposal competition

Posted March 26, 2015
by Laurie Anderson

GSPA 2015 winning team
(l-r) Megan Westbrook, Kelsey Thompson and Kelli Jo Armstrong

Athens, Ga. -- On Saturday March 21, a team of three graduate students from the University of Georgia School of Social Work placed first in a public policy proposal competition hosted by Georgia Students for Public Administration. Kelli Jo Armstrong, Kelsey Thompson and Megan Westbrook won the 2015 GSPA Policy Competition for their proposal, titled “Inclusionary Zoning Policy in the Southeast: A Regional Approach.”

The GSPA Policy Competition annually provides an opportunity for students to build policy development skills. Students from any discipline may enter the competition and address a real-world public problem that involves multiple stakeholders. The winning team received $750 and certificates of recognition. Armstrong, Thompson and Westbrook were the only social work students to participate in this year's event, which was held at UGA's Miller Learning Center and involved teams from UGA, Clemson University, East Carolina University, University of South Carolina and Georgia State University.

“The teams were asked to address an issue within one of six given issue areas,” said Sarah Sheehan, a graduate student in the School of Public and International Affairs and one of the event’s organizers. Issues included workforce readiness, co-pay structures under the Affordable Care Act, and downtown redevelopment, among others. After choosing a topic, each team had one month to prepare a written proposal, then delivered a presentation in front of an audience and a panel of three judges.

“Our team designed a regional policy that seeks to increase the supply of affordable housing by mandating that a certain percentage of new and rehabilitated for-sale development is set aside and made affordable,” said Thompson. 

In their comments, the judges noted that the students’ social work experience provided excellent training for developing realistic policies that kept community needs in mind.

“They did a great job both with their written summary and their oral presentation,” said Laura Meadows, director of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government and one of the competition’s judges. “They showed great depth of knowledge in answering our questions as well as those from the audience. All three were great presenters with passion for the subject.” 

Armstrong, Thompson and Westbrook will graduate from the Master of Social Work program this spring. Armstrong plans to provide services for victims of abuse and violence. Thompson will continue to engage in community work that involves the development of local and regional housing policies. Westbrook hopes to conduct research and evaluation of youth education programs on the federal level to inform national policy.