Featured Force: Leah Pagnozzi

Each month, we highlight a AAAS member who is a force for science. To find out how you can be a force for science, visit www.forceforscience.org.

Leah Pagnozzi is a graduate research assistant at Butcher Lab: Cardiovascular Developmental Bioengineering Laboratory with Cornell University. By initiating “Take a Politician to Work Day," she has succeeded at bringing multiple local, state, and federal policy makers to Cornell so they can see and learn about the important research being done there. 

Question 1: Share a story from your past that led to your interest in science advocacy.

I got very sick in high school and college, so I spent a lot of time getting personally familiar with our medical practice. My experiences changed my perspective from wanting to improve health directly as a practitioner to improving how medicine itself is practiced. I entered a PhD program in Biomedical Engineering to develop new methods and technologies as a researcher, but I realized I wasn’t interested in a traditional academic career. I saw I could make a larger impact in the health of my community by directing how we implement healthcare through policy and advocacy.  

Question 2: What have you done to be a Force for Science?

I developed a student-led program which brings elected representatives and senior government officials to campus to visit labs studying topics aligned with their policy interests called “Take a Politician to Work Day.” As scientists we need to tell stories about science, particularly to our representatives. Often we forget we are constituents too, and with many districts housing research universities, we need to let our leaders know what we care about and why. These tours are led by graduate students and post doctoral researchers to encourage a long term relationship between representatives and rising scientists. I also set time aside for open discussion after the tours for students and faculty to communicate directly with their representatives.

Question 3: What contact have you had with your representatives?

I am constantly trying to get my representatives on campus! Other than that, I meet with my federal representatives in Washington, DC, on Hill visits, [and at] Town Hall meetings when they’re back home, and I’ve testified to my state legislators on topics I have insight on. It's very important to me to keep lines of communication open and be a good constituent.

Question 4: Share a Web link/video/blog etc. that you’ve thought was especially compelling at communicating science.

I just read an amazing article on Politico that talks about the effects of our rising CO2 levels on plant nutrition. It covered challenging STEM topics in a straight forward and captivating manner which is rare in any context, let alone from a political news source. Definitely check it out

Question 5: What advice do you have for those who’d like to get started advocating for science?

First, recognize the importance of advocating for science broadly and talk to people outside your field of interest. Next, just get out there! There are so many options to engage. You can attend a march, a science policy happy hour, start a club, talk to your neighbors, go to a town hall meeting, meet with your representatives, write a blog, post on social media, invite your politicians to work, or run for office! Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there!