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Monica Lewis Economics Policy Contest



(May 14, 2013) It’s in the movies; it’s on the news: natural gas. How will we harness this controversial clean source of energy? What policies need to be put in place, and what is the best use for natural gas—as an alternative to petroleum for the nation’s trucking fleet, to power electricity at home, or to export?

These are the questions Armstrong students have been addressing through their involvement in the inaugural Monica Lewis Economics Policy Contest. Funded by the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Dale Lewis, the winning team received $7500 for coming up with the best solution. Dale Lewis, an Armstrong alumnus and current director of strategic analysis at CSX, named the contest in memory of his sister.

Each team analyzed the industry, conducted cost-benefit analyses, and projected the economic impact of the three potential policy outcomes. The winning team of Daniel McGann, Matthew Bryarly, and Victoria Loper performed professional-level research to come up with their conclusion that the best policy for natural gas is for the United States to export the commodity and decrease the U.S. trade deficit. The team also concluded that the exportation of natural gas by the U.S. would help lessen international dependence on oil.

Loper, a senior political science major, gained a lot of pre-professional practice, which also helped her hone her public speaking skills. “The whole process allowed me to take some of the skills that I learned when writing research papers and apply them to a real-life business issue. I have presented research before but this particular experience was geared toward making the proposal for potential clients.”

“All the hard work we’ve done over the past few years definitely comes to fruition when you do something like this and you can apply it in real-life principles,” added McGann, who is a senior economics major. “Matthew is a dual economics/political science major, and Victoria is a political science major, so we were able to apply theories on trade wars and trade power as well.”

In addition to the research conducted by all of the students who were competing in the contest, the two faculty advisors, Jason Beck and Nicholas Mangee, held additional workshops on topics such as net present values, so the teams could delve even deeper into the discipline. All of this hard work was conducted solely for the contest, not for course credit, but the training itself carries great value.

“I've presented at numerous conferences, but this experience was completely different,” explained Bryarly. “Instead of an academic setting, this was a business-type setting and carried some very different stresses. Now that I've gone through that, I am grateful for the experience.

Overall, I would have to say that the biggest gain was being able to meet with and talk to people in the field, people whose jobs revolve around the solutions that I provided. Mr. Lewis was such a great help and support.”

Choosing the winning team was not an easy task for the judges. Lewis was so impressed with all of the students’ work, that after the presentations he proposed a challenge to Armstrong’s economics department head, Yassaman Saadatmand. The challenge was to raise additional prize money to reward the second place team, as they, too, exceeded expectations. In addition to the generous $7500 he already donated for the contest, he offered to match funds raised for the second-place team.

In about a week’s time, the goal of raising $1125 was reached. With Lewis’ match, the second-place team of Jeremiah Johnson, David Hoover, and Sinjin Hilaksi garnered a total of $2250 for their work.

Along with the cash award, each of the six finalists received a letter outlining the issues and congratulating them on their successful handling of a difficult economic analysis.

“I don’t normally move the goalpost after the game,” said Lewis, “but I do believe in rewarding excellence.”

Having been so impressed with the work, Lewis has already committed funds for a second Monica Lewis Economics Policy Contest, establishing a prestigious and rigorous new tradition for Armstrong’s economics program.