Fellowships Advisory Committee Summer 2009 Minutes
AAAS SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY POLICY PROGRAMS
CONGRESSIONAL FELLOWSHIP PROGRAM ADVISORY COMMITTEE MEETING
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
2:30 – 4:30 p.m.
AAAS 2nd Floor
Haskins Conference Room
Members Present: Eric Fischer, Bill Hooke, Carmiña Londoño, Mary Ann McCabe, Steve Nelson, Sonya Sobrian
Members by Phone: Amy Carroll, Skip Stiles
Members Absent: Victor Baird, Mike Telson
Fellowships Staff: Paget Graham, Cynthia Robinson, Sage Russell
I. Welcome & Minutes from November Meeting
In the absence of Chairman Mike Telson, Cynthia Robinson, director of the AAAS Fellowships, called the meeting to order shortly after 2:30 p.m. Paget Graham, AAAS senior program manager for the Congressional Fellowships, asked for any input or changes on the minutes of the November 2008 Advisory Committee meeting. The minutes were approved with one minor change in the fourth paragraph of section II, adding “, and” to the first sentence between Fellows and expressed.
II. Report on Spring 2009 Partner Societies Meeting
Paget recapped the meeting of the fellowship partner sponsoring societies that took place at the end of May. The meeting was well attended, with more than twenty of the approximately thirty sponsoring societies represented.
Prior to their spring meeting each year, the societies are asked to complete a survey about their fellowship funding and activities. The summary table of the survey results was distributed prior to the meeting and shows Most societies saw an increase in applications this year; Stipends (of those answering the survey) range from $58,000 to $90,000, and average in the mid-60’s; this represents a modest increase in the average stipend compared to last year; and Most societies fund the fellowships from society funds; a few have established grants, endowments, or other external funding relationships.
This year, three societies – the American Institute of Physics, the American Physical Society, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers – are able to offer additional congressional fellowships; however, a few societies, including AAAS, have reduced the number of congressional fellowships they are able to fund for the 2009-2010 year. The total number of Congressional Fellows that will be available to congressional offices will be thirty-two, which is one less than last year.
In an effort to provide resources to help current and future partner societies secure funding and support for sponsored Fellows, AAAS is compiling a set of case histories documenting different funding strategies for fellowships. The intent is this document will help societies identify additional funding methods that fit their needs.
A few societies shared news about their past Fellows taking positions in the Obama Administration, including: David Washington – 2001-02 Congressional Fellow sponsored by APA was named Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement (formerly the Office of Public Liaison) Adela Ramos – 2004-05 Congressional Fellow sponsored by ASM (most recently working for Senator Harkin on the Agriculture Committee) has taken a position as senior advisor to the Under Secretary for Food Safety at USDA Kit Batten – 2005-06 Congressional Fellow sponsored by ASA/CSSA/SSSA has taken a position as Science Advisor in the Interior Department’s Office of the Deputy Secretary Holmes Hummel – 2007-08 Congressional Fellow sponsored by AAAS has taken a position as Senior Policy Advisor to the Department of Energy’s Office of Policy & International Affairs
Other topics included recruiting strategies of the different societies and Congressional Fellows’ ethics issues, which continue to be a concern, particularly Fellows’ travel. Since the ethics rules have been finalized, though, uncertainty for both Fellows and their societies has been diminishing. AAAS also shared the plans for preparing the Fellows for orientation and the congressional fellow placement process.
III. Report on Outreach to Congressional Offices for the 2009-10 Fellowships
The Fellowships staff will be hosting their annual information sessions about the Congressional Fellows Program on the Hill the week of July 20. These sessions attract offices not familiar with our program, as well as offices that are familiar with the program and would like to be more successful at attracting Fellows. Invites will be sent to offices of all Members, committees and subcommittees. Fellowships staff also will send brochures promoting the program to these offices.
IV. Review and Determine Eligibility for Partnership Applications
The committee reviewed the application from the American Dietetic Association (ADA). They noted that this was a large organization with a well-established governance structure, and that the membership is balanced and not top-heavy with PhDs; however, the applicant pool and the selection committee would be restricted to PhDs. Many committee members know Grace Ostenso and appreciated that this fellowship was named in her honor. The committee raised a few areas of concern, outlined below, that need to be addressed by ADA.
Code of Ethics: The application states that the Fellows would be governed under the ADA Code of Ethics, but that code doesn’t address the behavior of the Fellow. These conditions need to be added to the ethics guidelines the Fellow is asked to abide by.
Experience Criteria: Exhibit C of the application states that, “preference will be given to applicants who are in their mid career, with three or more years experience in the field (not an age issue).” The committee commented that the “not an age issue” qualifier (which also is used in the description of the review committee) might, in fact, be construed as an age preference. While the AAAS Fellowships don’t take a position on age or career-stage of applicants, the committee thought it might avoid the appearance of a preference if this qualifier was removed.
Reporting Requirements: Exhibit C of the application, under the Other Conditions section, states that, “As a Fellow, you will furnish information periodically to the ADA on your activities or other legislative developments.” Fellows are not allowed to furnish information on legislative developments under the House and Senate ethics rules, and this language must be removed. Also, the frequency of the reporting requirement needs to be clarified, to ensure that reporting does not become onerous for the Fellow or the Fellow’s hosting office supervisor.
The committee agreed that this was an excellent application and recommended accepting ADA as a partner society, though they asked the Fellowships staff to communicate the areas of concern to ADA’s representatives.
The committee then reviewed the application from the Population Association of America (PAA). They noted that the application was incomplete and did not provide much detail. The organization is small but more than 50 percent of its members are at the PhD level and it represents a disciplinary area not yet filled by the current partner societies. The committee would like to encourage the society to more fully develop their fellowship program. There are several areas that require greater detail, and they are outlined below.
Mission of the fellowships: The application states that the “mission of a PAA selected fellow is to increase federal policymakers’ use and awareness of research conducted by PAA members…” While the committee understands that PAA’s intention is to encourage the use and awareness of research in the field of demographics, the way this sentence is phrased conflicts with our ethics policy, and must be restated to be consistent.
Structure of the fellowships: The application does not provide details on the structure of the fellowships, and the relationship between the Fellow and PAA. It is disclosed in the funding section that the goal is to establish a fellowship placement opportunity at NIH in the National Institute on Aging. The committee would like this addressed in the structure section and expanded upon along with details about the responsibilities of the Fellow (attending orientation, reporting requirements, etc). Other possible placement opportunities, such as the Census Bureau, also might be included.
Recruitment and Selection of Fellows: The application does not provide much detail on the minimum qualifications, components of the application, and the criteria that will be used to evaluate applicants. The committee requires more detailed information on these aspects of the fellowship.
The application also states that PAA staff will “separate out the very best applications to be reviewed.” There is concern about such a selection process, and this goes against the AAAS policy that all applications should be evaluated by individuals with credentials in the field. While PAA staff could screen the applications for completeness, the judgment of the best applications should be determined by a selection committee of objective, qualified individuals. Also, information on the composition of the selection committee should be more detailed.
Fellowship contract: The application provides no information on a contract. The committee needs to see a draft document.
Lobbying: The application states the focus of the lobbying activities but does not disclose their budget or reported costs for these lobbying activities, or the number of registered lobbyists at PAA. This information is required.
The committee encourages PAA to resubmit their application for review and emphasized that developing this level of detail now will pay off later with an excellent program. The committee members are willing to review any resubmitted materials electronically once, and if there is unanimous agreement, accept the application. If there is not unanimous agreement, the partnership application can be reconsidered at the fall meeting.
V. Update on Fellowships Strategic Planning
AAAS Fellowships began a strategic planning process in January 2008 and is working on the final document that will pull together all of the information and suggestions gathered over the last eighteen months.
One of the main efforts of the process was an online survey of the fellowship alumni and a set of in-depth interviews with a subset of alumni and partners of the AAAS Fellowships. AAAS had email addresses for approximately 1,300 of the more than 2,000 Fellowships alumni, and of those 1,300 addresses approximately 1,000 were active. We received 373 responses, roughly a 37 percent response rate, and the respondents were almost evenly split (55 to 45 percent) between the executive branch and Congress.
Unfortunately, the survey vehicle (Survey Monkey) doesn’t allow us to easily separate out the responses by year, though this is rich data that would be highly valuable and the committee members encouraged Fellowships staff to take the time and effort to extract that data.
The survey questions were posed in an “agree-disagree” format and the findings of the survey include views and recommendations on growth of the fellowships, international activities, state-level activities, and operations conducted by fellowships staff. Overall, the alumni emphasized quality first before quantity. One of the strongest reactions concerned the program’s expectations for post-Fellowship employment, with some 96 percent of Fellows stating that AAAS should not have specific expectations for a Fellow’s subsequent employment choices. This is how the Fellowships have operated since the beginning, and a nice validation of that policy. Respondents also had no concern about Fellows or agencies using the fellowship as an employment or hiring mechanism, and generally were not supportive of developing separate international or state-level programs.
Five objectives emerged from the strategic planning process: Develop mission-vision clarity Ensure Fellow and program quality Build, shape and balance demand Improve supply-side marketing and recruitment Cultivate relationships with alumni and friends of the program
AAAS Fellowships staff will look to the Advisory Committee for input and feedback on each of these objectives, particularly in developing a clear mission and vision statement.
The report also provides recommendations for the future, including developing a broader Fellowships Advisory Committee, which reflects the large number of executive branch Fellows and that the issues dealt with by the Committee, such as ethics, impact all the fellowships.
Transitioning Congressional Fellowships Advisory Committee to a broader Fellowships Advisory Committee
AAAS staff confirmed for the Committee that broadening the Committee would entail new members (approximately three) that would represent the various federal government agencies that host Fellows and commented that this would require some learning on the part of all committee members about the breadth of agencies and offices and the different cultures.
The Congressional Fellowships Advisory Committee was established by the AAAS Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPP) as a subcommittee, therefore AAAS Fellowships staff will propose the broadening of the Advisory Committee to COSEPP and will keep the current Advisory Committee members informed.
Additional issues the broader Committee might be asked to address include providing input and feedback on new agency placement opportunities and the development of a criteria document for executive branch host offices.
Cynthia reported that in previous years we have not been able to meet host office demand in either the executive branch or congressional offices; however, this year we have approximately six executive branch fellowship finalists that it appears we may not be able to place. Fellowships staff work very hard to find all finalists a placement, though we never guarantee it, and the reasons we are unable to place a Fellow may vary but often offices determine there is not a suitable match between the available candidates and their program or project needs. In some instances, there are contracting issues with host offices being unable to find an appropriate funding mechanism to pay for Fellows.
Other future plans for the AAAS Fellowships might include the development of new program areas and exploring the creation of a “Returning Fellows Corps” to provide experts for short-term policy projects. The Advisory Committee would be engaged in such issues.
Once the final report of the strategic plan is complete, it will be distributed to the Advisory Committee members and feedback is always welcome. The plan will be a dynamic, living document that guides us in the further development of the AAAS Fellowships.
VI. Statement on Civic Engagement for Scientists and Engineers
Cynthia announced that AAAS has drafted a statement on civic engagement for scientists and engineers, and asked the committee for feedback on the draft.
The AAAS draft statement emerged from the end-goal of an APS statement on civic engagement, but has been broadened to include the wide array of activities available to apply science to support public policy and funding decisions, and to help address societal challenges such as public comment, advisory committees, peer review panels, etc. The ultimate goal for the AAAS statement is to present it to COSEPP for feedback and ask them to propose to the Board of Directors that AAAS endorse the statement and ask its affiliates to sign on to the statement, encouraging and supporting our members to be actively engaged in civic life as an important part of their scientific career.
As background, the APS statement was adopted into its charter last November and grew out of a 2006 APS survey to its members to assess their interest in running for public office. They received significant positive response, which led to a very successful professional development session on campaigns that AAAS conducted for the 2006-07 S&T Policy Fellows in July 2007. Representatives from the partner sponsoring societies and several other AAAS affiliates were invited to observe. The workshop received positive reviews, and thus was launched the Campaign Education Project, managed by Scientists and Engineers for America (SEforA).
With input and support from eight co sponsoring scientific and engineering societies, a promotional video was produced on the value of serving in public office, and a day long campaign education workshop was held in May 2008. The video and information about the Campaign Education Project and the 2008 workshop are available at: http://sharp.sefora.org/campaign training/. The project continues, and the next workshop will be held on Saturday, 5 December 2009.
The committee members had a lengthy and lively discussion about the draft, and sought clarity on the aim. One member noted that historically, AAAS always has had this mission. In particular, it would be valuable to look at this through the eyes of young scientists and engineers. Others were concerned about any presentation that may appear one-sided, and frames scientists as paternalistic and knowing what society needs rather than considering what makes society work. One member cautioned against using quotes, as that ties the statement to a particular time-period or collective state-of-mind, and encouraged an approach that would help the statement stand up over time. However, it was suggested that testimonials from scientists and engineers who have engaged in such public roles would strengthen the statement.
As a next step, we will incorporate comments into the next draft and get feedback from COSEPP. Cynthia thanked the committee members for such a rich discussion and will share the next draft with them shortly.
VII. Next Meeting
Before setting the date for the next meeting, Mary Ann McCabe announced that she was leaving her position at the Society for Research in Child Development, and therefore would be stepping down from her Advisory Committee role as a sponsoring society representative. She thanked the members for making her past two years of service rewarding. Cynthia thanked Mary Ann for her thoughtful input into our discussions.
The next meeting of the Advisory Committee will be in late October or early November. Paget will email committee members to find an appropriate date.
The meeting was adjourned at 4:55 p.m.