On Saturday evening as part of SXSW, five LBJ School students participated in the Dell PolicyHack, an interactive, competitive hack-a-thon that tasks teams of policymakers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and students to design solutions to policy challenges faced by entrepreneurs running growing businesses.

Participating teams comprised of an LBJ School student, an entrepreneur, policy and technology professionals and a businessperson were given 90 minutes to create a solution to a unique policy or social challenge not only affecting emerging technologies but also the current social landscape of traditional employment and opportunity.

Reynaldo De La Garza (MPAff ’18) explained, “All challenges were related to finding ways in which jobs could still be retained as a result of increased automation.”

LBJ School student Estevan Delgado (MPAff ’18) was on the event’s winning team.

“As a former actor and performer, I love working under pressure, so this was the perfect opportunity to see if I could marry that with my love for policy and thoughtful change.” —Estevan Delgado

“This was my first hack-a-thon,” he said. “As a former actor and performer, I love working under pressure, so this was the perfect opportunity to see if I could marry that with my love for policy and thoughtful change.”

After the working session, the teams had 5 minutes to pitch their ideas to a panel of experts, including members of Congress. All event attendees then voted for the best policy solution.

“The challenge is all about working under pressure and relying on your strengths as a team to think through all the angles of the question and design smart, effective public policy,” said LBJ School student Laurie Roberts (MPAff ’18).

“Through my coursework, my time in the Texas Legislature and my extracurricular work with professors and other students, I’ve gained a lot of real-world skills I can apply to serious questions like those posed in the hack-a-thon.” —Laurie Roberts

The event was both Roberts’ first hack-a-thon and SXSW experience.

“The LBJ School really helps students become not just theorists, but also practitioners of public policy,” said Roberts, whose team brainstormed solutions to automation in the STEM education fields. “Through my coursework, my time in the Texas Legislature and my extracurricular work with professors and other students, I’ve gained a lot of real-world skills I can apply to serious questions like those posed in the hack-a-thon.”

De La Garza, whose team looked at automation in the transportation sector, said the hack-a-thon, also his first, was unique, interesting and inspiring.

“I saw this as an opportunity to expand my experiences and try something that I have never done before,” he said. “I’m glad I participated. I was able to meet so many new people with so many different backgrounds from all over the country. I was also able to share my knowledge of the public policy realm, and it gave me experience in being able to defend my ideas and ensure they are well thought out and based on critical thinking.”

"I was able to meet so many new people with so many different backgrounds from all over the country. I was also able to share my knowledge of the public policy realm, and it gave me experience in being able to defend my ideas and ensure they are well thought out and based on critical thinking.” —Reynaldo De La Garza

Sara Wadud (MGPS '18) said she was hooked after participating in her first hack-a-thon.

“As a first year MGPS student, I was a bit hesitant because I felt perhaps I didn’t acquire enough knowledge to be able to do this,” Wadud said. “But once you are out there you realize how much you have learned from LBJ and how quickly you are able to adapt to certain situations because of the tools LBJ has handed down to us.”

Hack-a-thon veteran Hayden English (MGPS ’18), whose team examined ways to incentivize employers to adopt automation while creating employment opportunities for displaced professionals, said he valued the opportunity to network and gain exposure.

“Jump at this ­– it’s a rare chance to work closely with professionals in a realistic simulation,” he said. “Navigating group dynamics, tight deadlines and distilling the simplest solution from a complex problem are all skills we work on at LBJ. It’s always beneficial to network and problem-solve with the best and brightest, especially outside of the classroom.”

LBJ School faculty member Sherri Greenberg, who participated in the hack-a-thon as an LBJ liaison, said, "I am delighted that Dell selected the LBJ School again for the Dell PolicyHack. Events of this nature are invaluable for our students' professional policy development, and they also provide tremendous networking opportunities."

Delgado, whose winning team explored how the government could champion both workplace automation and the needs of displaced workers by creating a workplace exchange marketplace, said the experience affirmed his decision to attend the LBJ School.

“Initially I was a bit intimidated by the mix of successful entrepreneurs on my team, but I’m glad I decided to put myself and my ideas out there,” he said.

“My teammates validated my perspective, and we all learned very early in the process that we could use the diversity of our expertise in creating a robust and meaningful proposal. It was one of those “ah-ha” moments when I felt prepared to have a seat at the table, and I owe that to my professors and peers at LBJ. Through all of our readings, projects, discussions and debates, this is what we are trained to do. I felt so validated in my decision to attend graduate school.”  

As a member of the winning team, Delgado received a commitment from Dell to further develop the proposal.

"It was one of those “ah-ha” moments when I felt prepared to have a seat at the table, and I owe that to my professors and peers at LBJ. Through all of our readings, projects, discussions and debates, this is what we are trained to do. I felt so validated in my decision to attend graduate school.” —Estevan Delgado