Tech Team Wins iOme Challenge

Exterior of Academic Office Building
Exterior of Academic Office Building
A team of three Michigan Tech students has captured first place in the iOme Challenge, an essay competition designed to raise awareness of retirement security.

For the second time in four years, a team from Michigan Technological University has won a national retirement security essay competition.

The three-student team won the 2019 iOme Challenge sponsored by the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER). The iOme (I Owe Me) Challenge is a national competition designed to raise awareness among college students about the impact of retirement security on the social and economic well-being of society.

The Michigan Tech team, all of whom have taken economics and other courses in the School of Business and Economics (SBE), is comprised of data science graduate student Zach Rosenbaum and undergraduates Cole Peppin (chemical engineering) and John Ruf (mechanical engineering). Peppin and Ruf are pursuing minors in economics.

Students from across the country responded to the annual essay competition with a policy paper and a promotional video. Students were asked to imagine that Congress named them to an Independent Commission on Retirement, with instructions to re-evaluate and modernize the retirement system from the perspective of Gen Z-ers. The Michigan Tech team’s winning essay was titled “The Basic Proposal: Retirement Policy for a New Generation.”

A Bold, Fresh Look

David Wegge, interim dean of the Scheider School of Business and Economics at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin said, “The team’s essay challenges current assumptions and asks us to take a bold, fresh look at the future of retirement, considering demographic challenges and changes in the workforce for their age cohort.” Wegge is one of the founders of the competition and a member of the judging panel.

WISER President Cindy Hounsell said, “The team’s proposal is bound to spark a lively and important discussion of differing viewpoints. We are impressed by the team’s willingness to have a full and frank conversation about the demographic and funding challenges younger generations face in planning for retirement, as well as an examination as to whether the current three pillars are adequate for their generation.”

Back in the Winner's Circle

The Michigan Tech team is advised by Emanuel Xavier-Oliveira, assistant professor in the SBE. Oliveira was also advisor to Michigan Tech’s first iOme Challenge winner Jerrid Burdue, who captured the top prize in 2016.

Xavier-Oliveira said the team is comprised of members of Michigan Tech's Economics Club. Throughout the year, they organize lectures and panel discussions on a variety of socioeconomic topics, including a November 2018 Economic Outlook Report for local counties. “Naturally, when I introduced them to the iOme Challenge, they immediately jumped on board, because financial security, regardless of which time horizon we're talking about, is a dear topic to them.”

Xavier-Oliveira said the students are very concerned about rising student debt and how it may impose significant constraints on their generation's ability to retire comfortably. “Add to this scenario the current challenges about the sustainability of the US Social Security system and you get a group of alert and talented Huskies brainstorming a winning essay.”

He added that winning the iOme Challenge is no small feat, as the team faced competition from universities such as Harvard and Columbia, among others. The winning team will share a $5,000 prize, with an additional $1,500 awarded to the team’s advisor.

Taking It on the Road

The team will present its paper at a symposium, “New Perspectives: An Intergenerational Discussion on Retirement Solutions,” in Washington, DC on Wednesday, June 19. Oliveira will also participate on the panel. A reception in honor of the winning team will follow the panel discussion.

Xavier-Oliveira said the group is planning to meet with policymakers from the Senate and the House of Representatives, including Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters and US Rep. Jack Bergman. These meetings are organized by Michigan Tech and WISER. Brent Burns, the University's director of federal relations and corporate research, will accompany the group.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.