This past Spring Break, a group of twelve Techers consisting of undergraduates, graduate students, and Caltech Y staff with various backgrounds were able to go to Geneva as part of the Caltech Y’s inaugural global science policy trip. This Alternative Spring Break trip consisted of one week in Switzerland with meetings and discussions with policy leaders at various international organizations including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), World Health Organization (WHO), World Trade Organization (WTO), and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Geneva, and a day of sight-seeing at Bern, a UN designated World Heritage Site.
A particularly memorable and informative session was at CERN where we learnt about CLOUD, the chamber they have constructed to study cloud formation, and their connections to Caltech as well as the involvement of the United States overall with CERN endeavors. Our discussion at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) was very impactful as we learnt about the need for students with tech and scientific backgrounds in public policy and UNCTAD’s efforts to produce science and technology reports at the requests of various countries.
At the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), we saw interesting presentations on the history and goals of the organization as well as climate change. Our questions about the influence this research has on science policy were answered and we also learned more about the balance between conducting research, and the need to differentiate between fact and opinion when talking to government officials. At another session, we also specifically discussed the Internet Society and various privacy standards. More generally, we worked to understand the ability of research and recommendation based organizations to influence initiatives and regulations. The students’ individual backgrounds in fields including climate change, artificial intelligence, global health issues and among others enhanced our discussions.
A particularly memorable and informative session was at CERN where we learnt about CLOUD, the chamber
they have constructed to study cloud formation, and their connections to Caltech...
For me, this trip was a dream come true. It is inspiring and informative to be in an international hub like Geneva and have questions about the feasibility of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, fake news, climate change, equitable access to technology and medical advances, and what impact we as science and engineering students can have in international policy answered by global experts who are working on tackling these issues every single day. Beyond the educational aspect of the trip, Switzerland was absolutely beautiful with a flower clock and lighthouse along Lake Geneva as well as cathedrals and towers we could climb in Bern. We also learnt that Bern is the only place where Toblerone is made and sampled plenty of chocolate while we were there. I also hit a personal record in my walking meter according to my phone, which tracked our day in Bern at 11.7 miles!
I truly enjoyed this trip and the access to individuals just willing to talk about various issues and initiatives added further context to my work as an electrical engineer. I also met other students on campus interested in science policy and learned about their specific interests, which added many different perspectives to our discussions. Thanks to everyone who supported us and helped make this trip possible. In particular, I want to especially thank the Caltech Y staff for always encouraging us to figure out ways to make this trip happen even though it seemed like a large challenging endeavor when we first started out. Hopefully, this trip will be able to be offered again in the future and I would highly recommend going!
The global policy spring break trip was made possible with generous funding from the Frank and Elsie Stefanko Fund - established by Mike and Paula Stefanko (’70) in memory of Mike's parents. The fund provides opportunities for students to travel to a location outside of Southern California to pursue an interest outside of their Caltech studies.