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STPF 51: Welcoming the new class of fellows

L-R: Carlos Martinez, Shakira Grant, Bek Petroff, Jacqueline Smith, Alvin Tran
L-R: New STPF fellows Carlos Martinez, Shakira Grant, Bek Petroff, Jacqueline Smith and Alvin Tran. | Olivia Monahan/AAAS

“I have to tell you, we’re living in a golden age of science. We know more about the universe, our planet, and ourselves than we’ve ever known before.”  

Sudip Parikh, CEO of AAAS, shared these words at a recent ceremony honoring the 50th anniversary of the Science & Technology Policy Fellowship (STPF) program. Standing in an auditorium at the U.S State Department, he spoke to a room filled with current and former fellows.  

This September, the 51st class of STPF fellows begins their year in Washington. They will serve in offices and agencies across the federal government, including Congress, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Environmental Protection Agency, just to name a few. New agencies continue to join the fellowship program, with last year’s class placing STPF’s first fellows within the Treasury Department.  

With technology’s rapid pace of development bringing with it both new opportunities and challenges, the STPF program is evolving to help the nation’s policymakers meet the need to tackle critical issues such as those posed by artificial intelligence. The newest class includes STPF’s first ever AI fellows, who will bring expertise in robotics, AI and generative technologies, and machine learning (among other relevant expertise) to Congress.  

This year’s class comes to their fellowships from widely varied backgrounds, but with a shared vision for applying their scientific training and expertise to help inform federal policymaking. We profile six of this year's 276 fellows here.  

Bek Petroff is a toxicologist and environmental epidemiologist serving as a Judicial Branch Fellow at the Federal Judicial Center (FJC). With a background in environmental and public health, she uses her scientific expertise to understand how chemicals and toxins in the environment impact human health. She said she came to the STPF program to promote a field that directly impacts the lives of those in her community and offer her expertise to the judicial system. “I am excited to have my way of thinking totally blown up again,” she says about the year ahead. “Graduate school was such a huge change in how I approached problems and thought about the world around me. I am sure I will leave my position at the FJC in a totally new mindset that will help me be a better environmental health scientist.” 

Shakira J. Grant is a geriatric hematologist-oncologist who is a Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow sponsored by the American Society of Hematology. Prior to the policy fellowship, she held a faculty position in the Department of Medicine at the University of North Carolina, where her work focused on studying the challenges related to providing equitable cancer care to older Black adults. Her draw to oncology began in childhood, but she later decided to specialize in caring for older adults with cancer based on her experiences as a general physician in her home country of Barbados and later in Bermuda. “I am truly grateful for seizing this incredible opportunity,” she says of her fellowship. “In academic medicine, success can sometimes seem narrowly defined, but staying focused on making a meaningful impact has allowed me to bring diverse experiences into the policy world. To those who find themselves in a similar position, I would encourage you not to hesitate to explore new avenues in pursuit of a career that brings you joy and fulfillment.” 

Alvin Tran is a fellow at the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He comes to Washington from the University of New Haven, where he was an Assistant Professor of Public Health focused on body image and disordered eating behaviors. He says that he is looking forward to “helping the agency in supporting transformative biological and health breakthroughs.” At his university, he also served as the Assistant Provost for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and says that as a first-generation college student with parents who immigrated from Vietnam, he hopes to lead DEI initiatives at ARPA-H during his fellowship. Prior to his academic career, Tran worked in Washington as a healthcare reporter for Kaiser Health News, which first inspired him to work in policymaking. “Fast forward more than a decade and a doctoral degree later,” he says, “here I am as a AAAS Science and Technology Fellow.”  

Jacqueline D. Smith is a criminologist working as a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility (DEIA) Fellow with the Office of Science and High Energy Physics at the U.S. Department of Energy. Prior to the fellowship, she worked both as a professor and as an advisor to international policing executives to train officers in evidence-based policing programs and policies. She says that the knowledge and skills acquired during her criminology career will be applied to strategic planning and managing a more inclusive workforce. Smith’s focus will be supporting current scientists and engineers, recruiting from the broadest pool of STEM talent in minority-serving institutions, and improving DEIA initiatives. Her interest in criminology started as a teen, when her experience testifying as a criminal witness sparked interest in the legal system: after detectives interviewed her, she turned the tables and interviewed them about their process, and about what would happen with the information she provided. She says that the STPF program interested her as a way to look at the foundation of how organizations operate. “I wanted to know more about the oversight process in organizations,” she says, “how policy and liability transform organizations and communities, and to view from a policy lens what it takes to build trust and legitimacy between the two." 

Carlos Martinez is serving as a fellow with the NSF’s Coastlines and People program at the Directorate for Geosciences. A climate scientist by training, he was previously completing a postdoctoral position at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. His research investigated how well climate models can simulate the Caribbean rainfall cycle, which provides critical information for agriculture, tourism, and storm prediction in the region. In addition to his research, he also works on building relationships between the climate science community and spiritual, faith-based organizations and indigenous communities. As part of this work, he developed and chairs the Committee on Spirituality, Multifaith Outreach, or Science (COSMOS) at the American Meteorological Society. “The mission of this committee is to be the facilitator of dialogue,” he says. “There is a lot of mutual agreement when it comes to how these systems of knowing approach environmentalism.” Martinez says that he became interested in meteorology as a kid watching storms roll across the Texas skies, but that he also feels a responsibility toward his family and community in Puerto Rico to do this work. During his fellowship, he hopes to use his experience to ensure that projects are community driven, and balanced with the tools and resources Western science can provide.  

John Piret is a physicist who will serve as a fellow at the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Base Policy at the Department of Defense. He is a partner at Newbury Piret & Co., a boutique investment bank in Boston, and recently worked as a program manager for MIT’s Energy Storage Research Center, as well as finance lecturer at Northeastern University. Piret completed his ScD in physics at Sorbonne Université in Paris, where his father also worked as Science Attaché at the U.S. Embassy from 1959 to 1975. “I grew up in the world of science and technology policy,” he says. He first learned about STPF when he brought up the idea of starting a science and technology think tank with friends, who pointed him in the direction of the fellowship program. During his placement, he will work on analyzing the ability of the defense industrial base to field new weapons systems and capabilities.  

AAAS is proud to introduce this newest class of fellows to Washington, and the world, who are contributing their knowledge in this “golden age of science” to help respond to some of the most pressing issues for society.  


Elyse DeFranco

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