A proposal by four McCourt students to pilot a skills-based job training program at public libraries in the District of Columbia was selected by a faculty panel as the winner of the third annual Public Policy Challenge.

McCourt students Catherine Lyons, Christian Conroy, Daniel Willett and Kelsey BerkowitzThe project, "Leveraging Libraries as a Hub of Family Learning", inspired students Catherine Lyons, Christian Conroy, Daniel Willett and Kelsey Berkowitz into action based on statistics showing that despite the city’s robust economic growth in recent years, the unemployment rate in certain wards remains largely overlooked in being double the citywide average. A previous study identified a crucial stumbling block for many of the city’s poorest residents to be a lack of fundamental skills, including functional literacy and numeracy, that was leaving them behind.

"Our proposal grew out of discussions with local officials as we sought to better understand the challenges facing DC and the people who live here,” said the team in a statement. “As we work to put our idea into action, we aim to ensure that it is relevant and responsive to those challenges."

The students’ decision to host their project at targeted libraries was motivated by the idea that many job seekers already use the library to look for employment and that libraries are a familiar community institution that provide ready access the valuable resources. They endeavor to work with city officials to determine how libraries can become a key player alongside schools, universities, and employers in creating equal opportunities for learning and development for all individuals within the community.

“On each occasion since we launched the Public Policy Challenge three years ago, students have answered the call to put forward innovative solutions to today’s pressing policy challenges,” said Dean Edward Montgomery. “We couldn’t be more impressed by this year’s entrants, and we’re eagerly looking forward to following this year’s winner as they put their idea into practice right here in the D.C. community.”

The team advances to participate in the National Public Policy Challenge, hosted by the University of Pennsylvania, in March. If successful, they will receive a stipend to implement the pilot program.

Runner-up ideas at this year’s Challenge included a plan to implement a blue light tower alert system in a part of the city with a high crime rate and a proposal to promote discussions on identity to promote more awareness and understanding of diversity for future leaders.

Last year’s winning team, “Peace Cluster”, proposed developing a workshop that teaches forgiveness and reconciliation to high-risk Latino youth in the District of Columbia. Peace Cluster has launched a pilot of their project since being named a top finalist in the National Invitational Public Policy Challenge. Previously, “AppSent”, the inaugural winning team, advanced an idea for an innovative mobile-based application aimed at addressing absenteeism and poor performance in Math and English in middle schools, also in the District of Columbia.