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In the Rocky Mountain West: STPF Alum Combine Academia and Scipol

A collage of three photos featuring three STPF alumni. Right: Matthew Druckenmiller taking a selfie in the Arctic. Top right: Gillian Bowser smiling in a rainforest. Bottom right: Ramon Barthelemy standing in a building.
Matthew Druckenmiller, Gillian Bowser, and Ramon Barthelemy continue to impact science policy through their post-STPF academic roles.

STPF fellows complete their fellowships to find that their expertise opens numerous doors. Academia is one path of many, and one that has allowed three alumni based in Colorado and Utah to combine their scientific expertise with their interest in policymaking. All three have forged careers that include research with impact on policy at the local, national, or international level, drawing a direct line from their fellowship experience to their career trajectories.  

Matthew Druckenmiller (2013-15 Executive Branch Fellow at USAID) was drawn to the Arctic from an early age, attracted to the glacial landscapes and sprawling mountain ranges. He spent eight years in Alaska before joining the STPF community in Washington in 2013, where he completed his fellowship with USAID. The fellowship gave him the confidence to communicate effectively and authentically with diverse groups, he says, whether “engaging with government representatives in a prominent international forum or having coffee with an elder in a community.” During his second year as a fellow, he honed these skills while traveling across Central Asia with a team tasked with addressing water scarcity in the region. “It was an amazing month of community and government consultation that was just eye opening,” he says.  

But his heart never really left the Arctic, and he’s now a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he serves as Director of the Navigating the New Arctic Community Office. His fellowship helped prepare him for this role, he says, as he works with Indigenous Arctic communities to help address the societal challenges related to a changing climate. “I’ve always really enjoyed bringing in community based knowledge into research,” he says, “understanding that if you’re really going to address the issues of today, at the local level, you need to consult those ways of knowing.”  

Druckenmiller also serves as the lead US Representative appointed by the Polar Research Board of the National Academies to the International Arctic Science Committee, the largest non-governmental organization working in the Arctic. The group drives international collaboration in Arctic research – a critical task for a part of the world where the pace and scale of climate change is rapidly altering landscapes and livelihoods.  

Not far from Boulder, Gillian Bowser (2011-12 Executive Branch Fellow at the U.S. Dept. Of State) is an Associate Professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Her teaching includes classes on global environmental negotiations, mountains issues, and climate change. Bowser’s research includes leading chapters for international environmental assessments, and she will be leading sections for the new National Nature Assessment – the nation’s first nature-focused assessment for addressing climate change within the country. “Sustainability and ecosystem science are very much woven together in international climate policy approaches,” she says, “and with the more recent inclusion of nature-based solutions as part of climate adaptation strategies, there is a stronger urgency for training students with interdisciplinary skills that include social sciences, diplomacy, and ecology.” This is because environmental justice issues and cultural heritage are critical factors to include when designing climate adaptation strategies, she says.  

Bowser has participated in two international environmental assessments led by UN Environment, previously as a member of the high level group representing educational stakeholders, and currently as a lead coordinating author for the group that includes the U.S. These assessments help produce the Global Environmental Outlook reports – a key part of decision making for the UN Environment Assembly. She also served on the U.S. Fifth National Climate Assessment, helping produce the chapter on biodiversity by examining the state of biodiversity across the country.  

Her current work is directly related to the skills developed during her time as a fellow with the US Department of State, where she served in the Office of Marine Science in the Oceans, Environment, and Science division. Although she had many memorable experiences, including working on the second Earth Summit conference in Rio, the one that left the strongest mark was participating in the APEC Fisheries working group in Kazan, Russia. “Being able to witness intensive, behind the scenes negotiations as a delegate representing the United States was truly a wonderful experience that led to my deeper understanding of diplomacy, negotiations and the cultural footing of so many environmental issues that we all need to acknowledge,” she says.  

Ramón Barthelemy (2015-16 Executive Branch Fellow at the U.S. Dept of Education) is another alum who joined the academic ranks of the region as an Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Utah. He focuses on physics education research as well as research and advocacy for supporting underserved communities in the sciences. His current projects focus on supporting and changing policy for women of color and LGBTQ people in the sciences, “in order to help people from these communities, and also all students, because when you focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, it tends to help everybody,” he says. His advocacy convinced a top physics journal to allow researchers to change their names in published articles, a process which benefits everyone, but especially the transgender community, who could otherwise be outed when applying for grants and jobs.  

Barthelemy’s experience as a fellow in the Department of Education is one he credits with radically impacting his work as a scholar. “I had so many unique and special experiences, and as a person from a working class, immigrant family, I did not have a lot of those kinds of opportunities,” he says. “And the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship[s] actually gave me some of those.” His fellowship was sponsored by the American Physical Society, who recently named him a fellow, as well as the American Institute of Physics.  

Barthelemy’s passion for science policy spurred him to run for office, and he is currently campaigning for the Utah state legislature. One of his priorities, if elected, includes building a statewide science policy program that emulates the AAAS model, he says. “If it wasn't for my experience as a policy fellow, I do not think I would be a faculty member that spends a lot of his time focused on policy. And I certainly wouldn't be running for office, because I wouldn't have had those kinds of experiences in the government to believe that not only could I do this, but I’ve gained the skills to actually do it well.” 


Elyse DeFranco

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