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What is public policy? Those who study public policy analyze social, economic, and political factors to make ethical policy decisions. Public policy combines a wide range of subjects: mathematics, statistics, econometrics, psychology, neuroscience, and the humanities. Please   refer to “” for a helpful and detailed explanation of public policy.

In an essay of no more than 1200 words, identify a problem in your community and develop an original policy solution to address it. A successful essay will address a specific issue that is unique to the participant’s community, whether the community be a neighborhood, a city, a state, etc. The essay should include why the issue needs to be addressed and what benefits, both in the short and long run, will arise from the solution. The policy solution must be backed by data, evidence, and facts to support why it is necessary and/or feasible. 

Some examples:*

  • You find that River ABC in your town is heavily polluted. Using the data from your local government, you conclude that cleaning the river will cost $14,000, too much for your local government. You suggest the policy solution that those who get speeding tickets can waive their fees if they opt in to spend an hour cleaning the river. Using the data from your town’s Department of Transportation, you project that the river can be fully cleaned within one year even if only 10% of those who get parking tickets opt in to this program. The money that would have been made from the parking tickets was only $800, vastly outweighing the $14,000 saved. The clean river will boost foot traffic to the bordering park, which will increase revenue of local businesses and street vendors. 

  • Your state announced that they are cutting the arts program from public elementary schools because the state legislators want to redirect its funding towards a more robust math program. Because the American Psychological Association says that art can develop creativity and intellectual ability in young children in the long run, you argue that keeping the arts program will be crucial in the students’ academic success. In order to convince your state legislature, you come up with a policy solution where students who take art classes in local high schools can lead art workshops after school. The high school students will be volunteers, so the state won’t have to pay for professional art teachers. The state would only have to pay for the materials, which costs $120,000 per year, considerably lower than the $2.3 million per year for the previous program. The high school volunteers in return will receive volunteer hour credit for their help, and their own artistic endeavors will be honored by being featured around the state Capitol building. Through this policy solution, the high schoolers will be able to develop leadership skills as well as have their artwork displayed, the elementary school students will continue to have an arts program, and the state will be able to fund the program for a fraction of the cost. 

*The facts and figures presented in these examples are not necessarily true. Note that your essays should be much more detailed and precise than these examples. These examples are meant to show what kind of policy solutions might be applicable to this contest.


The contest is open to United States high school students attending public, private, parochial, or home schools who will be in grades nine through twelve in the 2021-2022 academic year. Current Pass the Torch volunteers are not eligible.


  • The contest deadline is September 1, 2021 at 11:59 PM (EST). Essays must be submitted by the contest deadline.

  • Essays can be no more than 1,200 words. Citations and bibliography are not included in the word count.

  • Essay must have a title.

  • Essays must be the original work of the student.

  • Essays must contain proper citations and bibliography (see “Citations and Bibliography” for more directions).

  • Essay must be in pdf format. It is recommended that contestants write their essays on Microsoft Word or Google Docs, and download the finished products as pdfs. 

  • Essay must be 12 point font, Times New Roman, double spaced, and have standard margins.


  • The winner receives $500.

  • The second-place winner receives $250.

  • Three finalists receive $100 each.


  • Participants are encouraged to use sources to strengthen their essays. Some applicable sources include newspapers, books, documentaries, and historical documents. 

  • All participants must cite sources they used to research their topic throughout their essay. Please use parenthetical citations or footnotes.

  • Essays must include a bibliography. Accepted formats include APA, MLA, or Chicago/Turabian.

  • In-text citations and the bibliography are not counted towards the word count.


Essays will be judged anonymously. Essays will be disqualified if eligibility and essay requirements are not met. Judging period will last until the end of October. 

Content (75%)

  • Understanding of the prompt

    • All components of the prompt are addressed.

  • Originality

    • The issue that is addressed by the essay is specific to the applicant’s community.

    • Suggested policy solution is unique and original.

  • Supporting evidence and source material

    • Source materials are reliable and varied. 

    • Essay reflects thoughtful research and critical analysis of source materials.

    • Essay contains skillful usage of supporting evidence to develop its argument.

Quality of Writing (25%)

  • Essay is lucid, fluid, and organized.

  • Essay is free of grammatical, punctuation, syntax, or spelling errors.

  • Essay displays an advanced style of writing.

  • Essay contains proper citations and bibliography.


Essay must be in pdf format, and must not include the contestant’s name so that the essays can be judged anonymously. Please have the name of the file be the same as the title of the essay. Essays can be uploaded using the Google Forms linked here


Pass the Torch is not responsible for lost, late, misdirected, damaged, illegible, or incomplete submissions. Submissions will not be accepted past the deadline. Decisions of the judges are final. Winners will be notified by email by the end of October. Winners will be announced on the Pass the Torch website by early November.

By entering, you agree that Pass the Torch reserves the right to print and/or display the essays on our website.


Please fill out the Google Forms linked here to indicate that you are interested in/planning on competing in the essay contest. By doing so, you will receive important updates and reminders through your email.


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Paola Bettelli is an attorney, admitted to practice in New York, New Jersey and Bogotá, Colombia. She holds an LL.M in International Trade and Business Law from Fordham Law School (NY), a J.D. (cum laude) from Pace Law School (NY), and an Attorney at Law degree from Universidad de los Andes’ Law School (Colombia, South America).

Ms. Bettelli has more than 20 years of experience in the fields of international law, environmental law and sustainable development. Working as a diplomat, she was the lead negotiator for the Colombian government in multilateral climate change, biodiversity and the movement of hazardous wastes negotiations. In her role the head of the Climate Change Office of the Colombian Ministry of the Environment, Ms. Bettelli was the designated authority for the approval of Clean Development Mechanism projects under the UNFCCC in Colombia, was responsible for setting national policies on climate change and representing the Colombian government in climate change multilateral negotiations.

Paola Bettelli also worked for the United Nations as Senior Economic Affairs Officer in the New York Office of the UN Regional Commissions where she actively participated in high-level UN task forces on climate change and on the reform of the UN Development System reform.

Ms. Bettelli currently works as an independent consultant in the fields of international law, environmental law and sustainable development. She currently teaches legal writing for non-J.D. students as adjunct professor at Fordham Law School, and has taught International Environmental Law at Universidad de los Andes’ Law School.

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