Washington, D.C. Trip Exposes Y Students to Role of Science in Public Policy

The 2017 Washington, D.C. Science Policy Trip provided 22 enthusiastic participants (nine undergrads, 12 grads and a postdoc) with an intimate glimpse into U.S. policy in the nation’s capital. Students met with policy makers, leading administrators, science advisors, and lobbyists to hear a variety of perspectives on the creation and implementation of science policy. Combined with the informative and challenging discussion sessions were opportunities for cultural exploration and sightseeing of some of the nation’s most historic structures.

Trip participants included four student leaders: undergrads Janice Jeon and Chloe Hsu, members of the Caltech Y ExComm, and graduate students, and Ollie Stephenson and Nick Weadock, members of the Caltech Y Social Activism Speaker Series (SASS) Committee. Two staff members, Greg Fletcher and Agnes Tong, accompanied the group on the trip as well.

Each day our group had the opportunity to visit impressive sites and meet with equally impressive people engaged in policy there.

A small group of alumni welcomed the group to Washington, joining us at William Foundation (NSF), the State Department, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

We met with more than 30 current and former science advisors, lobbyists, policy makers, and administrators including the following alumni:

  • Jim Battey, Director of the National Institute for Deafness and other Communicative Disorders (NIDCD)

  • Rebecca Adler Miserendino, Foreign Affairs Officer and Senior Climate Finance Advisor at the State Department

  • Michael Ledford, Vice President at Lewis-Burke Associates (lobbyists for Caltech)

  • John Andelin, former Assistant Director of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA)

  • Mike Nelson, former Science and Technology Advisor to Vice President Al Gore and the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology and Space

  • Bill Colglazier, former Science and Technology Advisor to Secretaries of State Clinton and Kerry and former Executive Officer for the National Academy of Sciences

  • Patricia Neil, Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Naval Analysis (CNA)

  • Yi Pei, Program Examiner at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and

  • Kevin Kuhn, Special Assistant to Deputy Assistant Administrator for Research and Development at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Once again, the trip was wildly successful in introducing Caltech students to the intersection of science and policy: In the words of some of our students:

“The D.C. Science Policy Trip taught me that scientific research is not done in a vacuum, and it has made me more attentive to political issues. Through site visits and daily fireside Q&A sessions, I saw a lot of new possibilities to take on social responsibilities as a scientist.” - Chloe Hsu

“The D.C. trip was a fascinating opportunity to interact with people working at the heart of government. I was amazed by the level of access to senior officials that we managed. It certainly exposed me to the wide variety of roles that scientists can go into and drew back the curtain on what can be quite a mysterious world for researchers.” - Ollie Stephenson

“My first trip to DC will certainly be a memorable one after the interesting and fun experience I had with the Y.” - Janice Jeon

The speakers were all very responsive to the group and attentive to the students’ individual questions. Based on feedback there is no reason to assume that the Washington, D.C. Science Policy Trip will not continue for years to come. The D.C. trip was coordinated by the Caltech Y and made possible with the generous support of the George W. Housner Student Discovery Fund.

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