U.S. Treasury Invites Case Competition Winners to Share Fresh Ideas with Federal Policymakers
February 29, 2016
Given the stakes, infrastructure policy was a natural focal point for Penn Wharton PPI’s third annual Public Policy Case Competition. The competition, which was open to all students across Penn, challenged them to work in teams to develop a targeted policy proposal for a domestic public infrastructure program which, in addition to benefitting the broader U.S. population, would increase employment and improve individual economic wellbeing in the long-run. The winning team, composed of Wharton MBA students Alex Bolano, Aroon Vijaykar, and Michael Weigley, addressed the specific area of water infrastructure, the revamping of which is expected to cost taxpayers $1 trillion over the next 20 years. Their proposal offered an operating and funding model for the creation of a Water Innovation Center—a center of excellence—that would be housed within the Department of Interior, to streamline the financing, development, testing, and rollout of new water system technologies.
Each of the students brought to the task previous experience related to utilities and infrastructure, including water-related issues, which helped lead them in the direction of focusing specifically on water infrastructure.
- Bolano worked for two years as a consultant at IBM Global Business Services, where he specialized in utility projects, and prior to enrolling at Wharton, was a project and customer engagement manager for Opower, which offers software to help utility companies and their customers better track energy consumption and manage energy resources.
- Vijaykar also brought consulting experience to the table, having spent several years at Deloitte working on a portfolio that included rural sanitation and electrification projects.
Weigley is an engineer by training, specializing in the design and build-out of water and wastewater systems. Beyond his own work experience, Weigley credits the course he took at Penn on the U.S. Water Industry with former Philadelphia Water Commissioner Howard Neukrug with giving further depth to his ability to translate his engineering background into business and policy questions. As Weigley noted, the case competition necessitated an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on the students’ complementary backgrounds in engineering, finance, and management, and “allowed our team to apply our diverse work experience and business education to this important issue of our national infrastructure.”
Their victory in the case competition earned them the top prize of $5,000, but it also got them something even more singular: an invitation to present their ideas to policymakers at the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
The idea to bring the winning team to Treasury was the brainchild of Wharton alumnus Benjamin Levine (W’10), who until recently served as a policy advisor at Treasury, where he also participated in an inter-agency working group commissioned specifically to help formulate infrastructure policy. When he got wind of the case competition, he immediately saw it as an opportunity to bring fresh ideas to the working group’s Build America Investment Initiative, “a government-wide initiative” launched by the White House “to increase infrastructure investment and economic growth.”
On December 10, 2015, Bolano, Vijaykar, and Weigley travelled to DC. After enjoying a tour of the White House East Wing, they proceeded to the Treasury Department, where they had the honor of meeting briefly with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew before presenting their proposal to the infrastructure working group, including representatives not just from Treasury, but also the White House, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Transportation, as well as the Department of the Interior, which figured so centrally in the students’ proposal.
Perhaps not surprisingly, “the experiential learning component of presenting the Water Innovation Center to a panel of real experts” was “the best part of the competition,” Bolano affirmed. “Knowing our audience, we had to really think through our message, its framing, and then how to deliver it to them in the most impactful way possible.” That process, Vijaykar added, “elevated our case competition experience from an academic exercise to an exciting discussion of the feasibility of our proposal in the real world, with the very people that have the power to make it happen.”