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Teams of UT students recently competed in the third annual Howard H. Baker Jr. Public Policy Challenge to provide solutions to local and national policy issues.

Named in honor of the late senator, the Howard H. Baker Jr. Public Policy Challenge is open to all UT undergraduates and graduate students.

Each of the eleven teams gave a five-minute presentation followed by a Q&A session with competition judges. The students competed for cash prizes to further their policy solutions.

This year’s winners include:

  • First place: Born Drug Free in Tennessee, Lucas Stewart ($3,000)
  • Second place: Farm to UTK, Morgan Faulk, Kristin Riggsbee, and Marry Waddill ($1,000)
  • Third place: VOLCON, Guinevere Shaw, Mark Christian, Kaitlyn McNabney, and Michael Ashworth ($1,000)
Lucas Stewart, Born Drug Free in Tennessee
Lucas Stewart, Born Drug Free in Tennessee

First-place winner Lucas Stewart, a senior in economics, said he found the policy challenge to be a tremendous learning experience.

“I have written countless research papers during my time as an undergraduate, but having to form an action plan, derive a budget and funding sources, think of potential impediments to policy implementation and reach out to stakeholders and allies across a variety of disciplines allowed me to develop skills that employers will value,” he said.

“I intend to continue pushing forward with my policy,” said Stewart. “I will be reaching out to the Knox County Health Department to assess how we might integrate my policy proposal’s drug-awareness and health-education campaign into their public health offerings to mitigate opioid abuse and neonatal abstinence syndrome here in East Tennessee.”

Morgan Faulk, Kristin Riggsbee and Marry Waddill of Farm to UTK.
Morgan Faulk, Kristin Riggsbee and Marry Waddill of Farm to UTK.

Other policy presentations included Feed the Gardens, Feed the Kids; Knoxville DisABILITIES Day Program; Zero Room for Zero Tolerance; Vehicle Emissions Testing in Knox County; Homes in the Heartland; Implementation of Radio-Frequency Identification in Hospitals; Improvement to the University of Tennessee’s Student Health Center; and Data Flex: Changing the Way UTK Does Fitness.

Guinevere Shaw, Mark Christian, Kaitlyn McNabney and Michael Ashworth of VOLCON.
Guinevere Shaw, Mark Christian, Kaitlyn McNabney and Michael Ashworth of VOLCON.

“We would like to thank the Baker Center for the opportunity to lead the development of a policy that will impact the lives of Knoxville’s most vulnerable population,” said Mark Christian, a graduate research assistant in UT’s Bredesen Center. “We are continuing the development of VOLCON and are currently reaching out to our partners across UT and Knoxville’s educational community to make VOLCON a reality.”

Judges for the event included Julia Burrows, director of the Governing Institute; Bill Lyons, deputy to the mayor, City of Knoxville; Don Barger, director of Southeast Regional National Parks Conservation Association; Martha Buchanan, director of the Knox County Health Department; and Judge Pamela Reeves, East Tennessee District Federal Court.

“This was our first year to embed the challenge in UT courses, and we are very grateful to faculty who decided to do so, including Don Bruce, Danielle Atkins, Kimberly Sims, Marsha Spence, Ragan Schriver, and our own Baker Center Learning Community,” said Nissa Dahlin-Brown, challenge creator and director. “Our judges also provided important feedback and are already reaching out to our winners to help them move their projects forward.”

Policy briefs and photos from the challenge are available on the Baker Center’s website.


Nissa Dahlin-Brown (865-974-8681, nissa@utk.edu)

Tyra Haag (865-974-5460, tyra.haag@tennessee.edu)