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University of Utah Undergraduates Shine at
the Schuman Challenge


schuman challenge student winnersIn a remarkable debut performance, a team of undergraduate students from the University of Utah's Department of Political Science and David Eccles School of Business has secured second place at the prestigious Schuman Challenge, an annual academic competition in Washington DC sponsored by the European Union (E.U.) delegation to the United States. This achievement marks a significant milestone for the University of Utah, competing for the first time and outshining renowned institutions like Yale, Stanford, and Columbia in the process.

The University of Utah's delegation, established by team leader Jaspar Ruegemer (Political Science), also included Aarushi Verma (Quantitative Analysis of Markets & Organizations), and Elena Ruegemer (Political Science). Jaspar Ruegemer was responsible for conducting all multi-lateral and transatlantic policy research, along with all political aspects of their proposal, Aarushi Verma handled all budget and finance related elements, and Elena Ruegemer covered the scientific components of their work. Together, they crafted a compelling policy proposal centered on collaboration between the EU, the US, and Latin American countries to advance research and development of natural hydrogen as a sustainable energy source.

Jaspar Ruegemer noted, “Our proposal revolving around natural hydrogen is a zero-carbon emitting solution that is self-replenishing in the earth’s crust. A fantastic resource that requires research and development to be accessed and implemented at a large scale. Our proposal suggested ways in which the three regions could work together to access the resource, implement it, and seek benefits (particularly in the LAC region) through trading natural hydrogen derived energy on global energy markets, resulting in an increase in GDP for the region.”  This innovative approach caught the attention of judges and exemplifies the students' dedication, creativity, and interdisciplinary acumen.

student presentersEach delegation presented their policy proposal to a panel of three judges, consisting of representatives from the E.U. delegation to the U.S. and the U.S. Department of State. Teams were given 10 minutes to present their proposal, followed by a 10-minute round of questions from the panel of judges. Following the first round, delegations were given further feedback from the judges if they were chosen to move to the final round. After a compelling first round proposal, the University of Utah team was chosen to present in the final round of competition, ultimately taking home a second-place finish; an honorable achievement for a first-time delegation.

Our participation in this challenge can only be described as monumental.” said Ruegemer. “This can be seen not just for the University of Utah, whose name was brought to Washington and to the E.U. Delegation, signifying the first time it engaged in this illustrious competition, but also for us three team members individually. We learned that it is possible to build a successful proposal from the ground up and present it at a very high-level competition with a huge success with very little consultation from experts on the matter. We learned what successful teamwork requires in terms of cooperation and the sharing and implementation of ideas.”

Faculty advisor Brent Steele provided invaluable guidance throughout the process, highlighting the students' independent initiative and their adeptness at navigating complex international relations dynamics. Steele commended the team's collaborative process, emphasizing their ability to address critical questions and challenges related to their proposal.

I want to emphasize that this was a student-led initiative by these three outstanding individuals.” noted Dr. Steele. “They regularly met over the course of this academic year and each brought their own perspective on why the chosen policy proposal was crafted. It reflects the absolute best of what we mean when we speak of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary proposal to grand challenges.”

The journey to the Schuman Challenge began with meticulous planning and research. Their proposal, focusing on climate change and sustainable development, was a product of extensive research and strategic thinking, culminating in a comprehensive policy outline. Participating in the Schuman Challenge not only showcased the team's expertise but also provided invaluable learning experiences. They gained insights into transatlantic issues, diplomatic approaches, and the complexities of international relations and policymaking. Interacting with other teams further broadened their perspectives, highlighting diverse approaches to addressing global challenges.

Reflecting on the experience, Ruegemer notes, “We learned how transatlantic policy is drafted and how those at the forefront of addressing transatlantic policy perceive our work as students. We learned how to carry ourselves professionally and to cater to those who make the decisions at the level of the EU Delegation to the U.S. and we learned how to present in front of the Ambassador of the European Union to the United States and 4 other heads of sections at the EU Delegation - An experience which at our age is remarkable and truly highlights our ambitions as we would have never made it to the level of interaction we found ourselves at without the drive our team had experienced.”

Looking ahead, the team members envision applying their newfound skills and knowledge in their future academic and professional pursuits. Jaspar Ruegemer hopes to work for the E.U. delegation to the U.S to facilitate transatlantic cooperation. Elena Ruegemer aspires to work for the European Parliament, leveraging her experience to forge meaningful connections. Aarushi Verma, with a background in quantitative economics, is looking to enter a career in sustainability economics within the policy realm.

The University of Utah's success at the Schuman Challenge underscores the institution's commitment to fostering excellence and innovation among its students. As we celebrate the achievements of these exceptional undergraduates, we also recognize the enduring impact of their participation in the Schuman Challenge—an experience that has honed their skills and ignited their passion for shaping a more sustainable and interconnected world through policy and diplomacy.

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Last Updated: 4/26/24