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Annual Policy Meeting Brings the White House to AAAS

This year, the 2019 AAAS Forum on Science & Technology Policy attracted a highly engaged group of policymakers, scientists, engineers, research administrators, industrial R&D managers, students, science diplomats, science writers, and others who operate at the intersection of policy and science to Washington for two days of plenaries, panels and workshops.

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Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Kelvin Droegemeier at the AAAS Forum on S&T Policy. | Kat Song

After being introduced by AAAS CEO and S&T Policy Fellowships (STPF) alumnus Rush Holt, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) Director Kelvin Droegemeier looked out on the audience and remarked, “I’ve sat in the audience of this event for many years. I’ve never dreamed I would be up here.” As he did at the AAAS Annual Meeting in February, he called for a second bold era of the American science enterprise to follow the one that followed World War II. This era would be marked by further empowerment of private enterprise and nonprofits in helping push discovery and funding research, according to Droegemeier.

 

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Speaking to a slide featuring a photo of the 2017-18 class of S&T Policy Fellows, Drogemeier said that at the White House “we benefit enormously from the AAAS [policy] fellows.” A few days later, OSTP tweeted about their current STPF fellow, 2017-19 Executive Branch Fellow Jon Werner-Allen.

“I didn’t come here [to the White House] to keep the lights on; I came to make a difference,” Drogemeier said. He explained that OSTP is in the process of hiring for a position, assistant director for academic engagement, to help bring about a vision for “seamless STEM education across the continuum” – an education system from the ground up starting from pre-kindergarten and with strong linkages between levels of education and institutions.

His parting words of advice were specific and actionable. They included: “Learn about policy informally…. Take courses in policy…. Become involved in policy [through things such as fellowships, serving in your congressional office]…. Consider politics as a career.” Then he said, “Please follow us on Twitter @WHOSTP,” before taking questions.

Ernest Moniz, president and CEO of the Energy Futures Initiative and former US Secretary of Energy, spoke about the “green real deal” – a plan to quickly achieve a low carbon future through major energy system transformation. He said this can be achieved by building broad coalitions, particularly political ones, and taking an approach that is sectoral (electricity, wind, etc.), regional (since different parts of the nation embody different energy markets and realities), and that accounts for social equity.

Moniz had the tone of a pragmatist. But during Q&A, he also held up 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg from Sweden as an example of the type of passion and urgency that needs to be adopted for meaningful change.

In other sessions, STPF alumna Kate Stoll (2011-13 Executive Branch Fellow and 2013-14 Legislative Branch Fellow sponsored by the American Chemical Society) spoke about how graduate education can be improved. As a fellow, she spearheaded the Innovations in Graduate Education Challenge – a contest to find the best solutions and improvements to the education and professional development of graduate students.

AAAS Chief Communications Officer Tiffany Lohwater encouraged scientists and engineers to jump in and start communicating about science and engineering in every venue from the everyday (in a cab ride or the dinner table) to public fora, policy discussions, and participatory science.

The closing session was designed to elicit actionable steps, particularly for individuals. "We need powerful and less powerful voices" in the effort to improve science, policy and the scientific enterprise, said STPF Director Jennifer Pearl (2002-03 Executive Branch Fellow).