UM Student Places Second in International Simulation Competition

Kaitlin Pugh, a UM Master of Public Administration student

MISSOULA – A University of Montana graduate student led her team to a second-place finish recently during an international, public-policy simulation contest involving students from 30 countries around the world trying to combat a fictional pandemic.

Kaitlin Pugh is a Master of Public Administration student in UM’s Baucus Institute, which houses the Department of Public Administration and Policy. Her team competed in the virtual competition against 400 students from 120 universities at four global sites. The event was the 2021 NASPAA-Batten Student Simulation Competition. (NASPAA stands for Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration.)

“The teams were organized so that I was paired with students from all over the Western Hemisphere,” said Pugh, who is from Pittsburgh. “I had never worked with such a diverse group, but our team was able to have such a fun time while working on policy decisions.” 

Her team included students from Villanova University, Georgetown University, Fundação Getulio Vargas and Columbia University.

The competition is a daylong event that allows graduate students in public policy and related fields to test their skills on real-world data. Each year, the Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming develops an original participatory simulation specifically tailored for students of public policy and administration. The simulations give participants a chance to employ their knowledge in a realistic situation, as well as an opportunity to hone skills in leadership, negotiation and critical thinking.

“The simulation this year was ‘Pandemic 2.0,’” Pugh said, “which has been a familiar topic in our lives that connected us regardless of our backgrounds. It was really special to get the chance to see how people would decide on policies based on their own experiences with COVID-19.”

The simulation placed students in leadership roles within a time-sensitive, fast-paced environment where they worked together to minimize the impact of a deadly infectious disease. 

“I served as the prime minister for our team,” Pugh said. “Every decision I made came from trusting the advice that others gave me. With each game you could tell that we were growing our connection as a team and working better together.”

There were three games within the simulation requiring students to work in a team setting, make decisions under strict timelines and present findings and suggestions to a large group. Ultimately, Pugh’s team had the opportunity to present their strategies to a panel of judges and placed second overall in the competition.

“I am so fortunate to have represented our department,” said Pugh. “And I gained so much confidence in my capabilities as I head into graduation this May.”

“We’re so proud of Kaitlin for this accomplishment and representing the University of Montana on a global scale,” said Dr. Sara Rinfret, chair of UM’s Department of Public Administration and Policy. “She certainly has set the bar high for our MPA students, and the department plans to continue sending participants to this renowned experiential learning experience.”

UM’s MPA program is created to be flexible for pre- and mid-career professionals interested in working in public and nonprofit organizations. The degree consists of 36 credits of coursework and a portfolio project, and it offers a concentration in nonprofit administration.

For more information about the Department of Public Administration and Policy, visit


About NASPAA: NASPAA is a membership organization of graduate education programs in public policy, public affairs, public administration, and public and nonprofit management. Its 300 member institutions – located across the U.S. and in 24 countries around the globe – award MPA, MPP, MPAff and similar degrees. NASPAA is the recognized global accreditor of master’s degree programs in these fields.

About CLSG: The University of Virginia’s Center for Leadership Simulation and Gaming at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy prepares students for public life by allowing them to test real-world solutions in a virtual environment. CLSG designs, develops and implements cutting-edge simulations and experiments to advance education in leadership and public policy; conducts rigorous leadership and public policy research using simulations and experiments; and creates a community of scholarship where faculty, researchers and students are supported in their scholarly efforts related to the methodology of simulations and experiments.

Contact: Dr. Sara Rinfret, UM Department of Public Administration and Policy chair, 406-243-4702,