On April 6–8, four students from West Chester University had the opportunity to partake in the Schuman Challenge — an annual foreign policy competition hosted by the European Union — and ultimately took first place after competing against a total of 21 other schools. Their opponents included prestigious institutions such as Yale, Georgetown and Berkley Universities, and the accomplishment was an impressive one for the students at WCU.
The overall premise of the competition prompted groups of undergraduate college students to develop a plan to address a topical foreign policy situation. This year’s topic was directed specifically towards the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, and what plan of action could be taken to improve the current state of the country.
WCU’s team of students was recruited by Political Science Professor Peter Loedel, and was composed of four students: seniors Evan Brooks, Katie Kerr, Joseph Steidol and junior Jocelyn Brown. Each brought unique insight and experience to the table, with majors and minors including political science and economics.
At the event held in Washington D.C., the team was posed with the challenge of developing a 10-minute presentation highlighting their proposed course of action, followed by a 10-minute question and answer period with the judges.
“[Our] presentation was a 3–5 year financial framework to address the ongoing humanitarian and economic crisis,” said Brooks. Furthermore, their proposal was divided into three sections including humanitarian aid, restoring the nation’s economy and providing support to Afghan refugees across the world.
The first phase of the proposal, humanitarian aid, was led by Kerr. The phase itself was divided into three objectives, all related to providing Afghans with the resources to cultivate a healthier approach towards farming. “First was establishing a national nutritional program, establishing funding for agricultural investment in terms of teaching people how to farm sustainably and the last part was focused on agricultural research,” said Kerr.
The next phase was developed by Steidol and focused on restoring the banks and economy of Afghanistan. After the occupation of the country by the Taliban, many funds and accounts had become frozen, which prompted Steidol to address ways to initiate the unfreezing of those funds. Additionally, he proposed an intention to encourage women to take greater autonomy in their banking situations by opening their own accounts.
Lastly, the final phase was led under Brown, and focused on resettlement and relief for refugees who no longer reside in Afghanistan. Specifically, in regard to providing them with economic support in hopes that the refugees could one day be able to return safely and securely.
While approaching such an important topic, the team encountered various challenges along the way. One of the largest obstacles was coming up with an idea that complied with everyone’s opinions, had significant research backing it and that had a genuine chance of working. There was a lot of trial and error in developing a plan that would be the most effective and beneficial to Afghans.
The team also had to put a lot of effort into developing their understanding of the complex topic. “Understanding and creating policy is so difficult and I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface,” said Brown.
Overall, the competition was an immensely rewarding experience for all involved. Despite WCU being a smaller university with lesser fame attributed to its name than schools like Yale, WCU students were still able to show consistent achievement and win first place in the competition.
“If there’s anything I can say that can be garnered from this, it is that it doesn’t matter what school you go to. It matters what you make of the opportunities, and what you do in each moment,” said Brooks.
Olivia Schlinkman is a first-year Political Science Major with a minor in Spanish. firstname.lastname@example.org