AAAS’ Science & Technology Policy Fellowships (STPF) and the U.S. Department of State have celebrated a milestone in the two organizations’ shared commitment to science-informed policymaking: more than 40 years of STPF fellows bringing their scientific expertise to the State Department.
“Fellowships like the ones that we’re celebrating today are not only a vital part of our past as we celebrate the trajectory we have been on and the long history; they’re not only a part of our present as so many of you in this room are; they’re critical to our future,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken at an August 10 ceremony at the State Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships date back to 1973, when seven scientists were placed in offices on Capitol Hill. The program has grown in many ways in its 50 years – in 1980, the State Department was the first Executive Branch agency to recognize the need for science in policymaking, said Sudip Parikh, AAAS CEO and executive publisher of the Science family of journals.
Today, STPF places approximately 300 fellows in all three branches of government, with more than 50 fellows at State each year, Parikh noted. That partnership has produced more than 700 alumni of the program just from the State Department, he added.
More than 100 STPF alumni are still with the State Department, among them Allison Schwier, the acting science and technology adviser to the Secretary of State.
“We all had different life experiences, such as dual degrees, masters, PhDs, post-doctoral research, study abroads, international experiences, teaching, professional careers,” said Schwier at the ceremony. “But all of us at some point arrived at the department because we fundamentally believed in the power of science, technology, and innovation to inform U.S. foreign policy and make a difference.”
This continued investment in bringing science expertise to the State Department “tells you that this ability to imbue science throughout is valued not just by the scientists – because it is – but by diplomats, by the folks who are making a difference in our policy work,” said Parikh.
Blinken noted that while STPF was the first fellowship with which State partnered, four more fellowship programs have followed: the Jefferson Science Fellowship Program, facilitated by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; the American Institute of Physics; and the newly launched American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Fellows have immeasurably strengthened the work of the State Department, said Blinken.
“They’ve served on crisis response teams, supporting West African nations’ response to the Ebola outbreak, helping our Japanese friends respond to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster. They’ve led our efforts to eradicate HIV/AIDS. They’ve created programs to help young women in the Middle East to pursue careers in STEM. And that’s just a small illustrative sample of many of the endeavors that our fellows have been involved in,” said Blinken.
“Today, we have fellows working on everything from internet freedom and emerging technologies, to health security and global supply chains, to boosting energy security and combating wildlife trafficking,” he added.
Strengthening the State Department’s science and technology expertise “mission critical for us,” Blinken told attendees. “I’m grateful for your partnership, for your leadership, in doing that.”