Italy’s Stagnating Economy? GDS Euro Challenge Has It Covered

The GDS Euro Challenge team presents their solution. Not pictured: Leah Li. Screenshot courtesy of Sue Ikenberry.

On April 12, five GDS underclassmen presented their solutions to economic issues in Italy as  part of the national Euro Challenge competition. Although they did not progress beyond the regional round of the competition, team members found their presentation to members of the European Union (EU) delegation fulfilling, and they are proud of their performance.

“Some [members] wanted to win, some wanted to have fun and, overall, I think [the presentation] was successful,” freshman Darwin Gu, one of the current members of the team, said. 

The Euro Challenge is a national competition, hosted by the EU, in which participating freshmen and sophomores present a solution to economic issues facing one country that uses the euro currency. The teams present in three rounds: regional, semifinal and final. The top five teams receive cash prizes, with each member of the winning team taking home $1,250. In previous years, the GDS team has focused on Ireland and Slovakia, covering issues of high youth unemployment and slow gross domestic product (GDP) growth respectively, reaching the semifinal round during the 2019-20 school year.

For the 2020-21 school year, the team chose to address issues which have been getting worse over the past several years in the country: slow GDP growth and rising youth unemployment rates. They proposed a three-pronged solution, which involved programs to help young adults and women enter the workforce and a more balanced approach to tourism.

In addition to Gu, the team includes freshmen Hana Sakr, Juni Irving-Pettyjohn and Leah Li and sophomore Susan Lin, who have met weekly throughout the school year. The team recently virtually presented its findings to the EU liaison and was judged on the feasibility of its proposed solution. The club is guided by faculty advisor Sue Ikenberry and junior Pierce DeCain. 

Ikenberry has overseen the team for the eight years it has operated at GDS and has high expectations for the future based on the team’s performance this year. “[Their presentation] was really beautifully done,”she said. One area the team could have improved was in the question and answer portion, as some of the more complex economic questions proved difficult.

One major challenge this year was coordinating meetings, because Lin was stuck in China due to travel restrictions. Gu noted that with team members out of the country, “It was really hard to work out when everyone’s busy,” due to the time difference. 

Because the team is only open to underclassmen, there is an upperclassman advisor to ensure the consistency and continued existence of the team. DeCain credits his upperclassman advisor, Nathaniel Rosenberg ’19, for teaching him tricks that helped the team perform well during his freshman year. To him, the role of the advisor is to “inform [the team] on the kinds of things the European Union can’t just tell us in the instruction manual, the kinds of specific things that only someone who has competed in the past can tell you.” 

Ikenberry was quick to point out the invaluable contributions DeCain made to the team this year as the advisor. “I think Pierce really deserves the bulk of the credit,” she said. He was responsible for organizing and recruiting, having to regularly check in with the team throughout the process.

Sakr believes that the experience has made her a better orator in general, noting that her improved ability to effectively communicate. “It was helpful in other skills as well,” she said, mentioning “doing a lot of research and presenting skills too, and how to take constructive feedback.” She is unsure of whether or not she will remain on the team next year because of the high time investment.

Unlike Sakr, Gu is certain that he plans to remain on the team next year. “I think it’ll be cool to aim for at least getting past regionals,” Gu said. Based on their performance this year, he also expects many current team members to stay. 

The team was not without hardship. The unusual circumstances of the pandemic changed the experience. COVID-19 prevented the team from visiting the EU headquarters, making the final experience of the presentation slightly underwhelming.

Sakr also had some suggestions about how the experience could be improved. She said that the team could have benefitted from more diverse sources of advice. “The upperclassmen are pretty busy so to have more than one advisor might be helpful too, and that way, you get different perspectives and they can alternate,” Sakr suggested.

DeCain has high hopes for the future of the team. “We will continue to push farther and farther into the competition, and we will compete seriously on a national scale,” he said, and even though the team wasn’t able to reach the semifinal round, DeCain expects great things from the team next year.

CORRECTION (May 17, 1:24 p.m.): A previous version of this article misstated the Euro Challenge team’s past upperclassman advisor. It was Nathaniel Rosenberg ’19, not Nathaniel Weiner ’19.