It was another time of great learning, sharing and networking at the 2023 AAAS Annual Meeting. And this year, it was even better because the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships (STPF) program celebrated its 50th anniversary. From scrappy beginnings back in 1973, and as the result of much determination and deliberation, the STPF program was ushered in with seven fellows on Capitol Hill, sponsored by a partnership among four scientific societies.
In conjunction with a new vision to leverage its alumni base in exciting new ways, the STPF program approached the international scientific meeting with an increased level of strategy and planning. The result was a four-day extravaganza of scientific sessions, workshops and networking, capped off by a gala gathering to celebrate a half century of science in, with and for policy.
For the first day of the meeting, STPF helped break the ice by hosting a speed networking for current and alumni fellows. Folks chatted with new people for five minutes, then moved to a new table to meet more new people. It was a rousing success.
Barbara Martinez (2011-12 fellow at the Department of Interior; 2012-13 fellow at EPA) and Herbie Weiss (1986-87 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow) chat over a game of STPF bingo.
The first-ever STPF Alumni Lounge was unveiled in the exhibit hall. Equipped with comfy seating, chargers, snacks and drinks, it provided a place of rest and connection. In addition, intimate talks on different topics hosted by alum fellows stoked meaningful conversations. The opening reception featured the STPF signature beverage "STPF Forever!" (Alum including Isaah Vincent (2016-18 fellow at NIH) and Kate Stoll (2011-13 fellow at the National Science Foundation, NSF; 2013-14 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow) relaxed and connected with each other.)
So You Want to Be an S&T Policy Fellow? That’s the question the new STPF Director of Recruitment Mehrab Sarwar (pictured) and STPF alum addressed for a packed audience on Day 2. Eileen Oni (2017-19 fellow at NSF), Amrita Banerjee (2020-21 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow; 2021-23 fellow at the Department of State), Amy Hafez (2019-20 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow; 2020-21 fellow at the National Institutes of Health), and Kristin Lewis (2014-16 fellow at NASA) spoke about what it’s like to be a fellow.
Rob Stanley (National Science Policy Network, far left), Andrew Maynard (Arizona State University), and STPF Director Rashada Alexander (2009-11 fellow at NIH) pondered whether and how science policy is a discipline, and the promise it holds for the future. In a session with nearly 100 attendees, they also addressed the skepticism about whether policy coursework and fellowships are even a legitimate or appropriate step in a career path for scientists. “Looking up from the bench should be considered a feature and not a bug,” said Alexander.
Annual Meeting attendees were able to listen in on lively, enlightening and personal conversation between White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Arati Prabhakar (1984-85 Legislative Branch Fellow at U.S. Congress) and AAAS CEO Sudip Parikh. Having covered much ground including issues of equity, ethics, and bridging the divide between political parties, she concluded, “I came to the White House because it’s where you can help move forward the entire science and technology ecosystem.”
The Impact of Scientific Evidence on Policymaking through Science Policy Fellowships session featured (from left to right) Jon Kaye, STPF Project Director Olivia Monahan, Skip Stiles, Michael Fernandez (1991-92 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow), Rachel Owen, Michael O’Connor (2019-20 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow; 2020-22 fellow at the Department of Energy), and Brittany Whitley. Among other issues, they explored how policy fellows have shaped the policymaking process and how demand from policymakers has changed over time. Quipped (and summarized) O’Connor, “We [fellows] are the Swiss Army knife you didn’t know you needed.”
Throughout the meeting, the Alumni Lounge continued attracting fellows to participate in mini sessions as well as a time-honored tradition of swag – extra special this year in honor of the 50th anniversary!
Christopher Jackson (2022-23 fellow at the Department of State, far left), Ben Zaitchik (2008-09 fellow at State), Ian Simon (2010-11 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow; 2011-13 fellow at State), Arti Garg (2009-10 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow) gave advice on how to get “Out of the Lab, Into the Community: Pathways for Local Policy Engagement.”
On Saturday night of the meeting, STPF threw a big gala complete with four past STPF directors, four 20 foot interactive displays featuring a timeline of significant points in STPF history and a series of video snippets from STPF alumni and key figures in its history, as well as four artworks commissioned to represent major scientific advances. The evening opened with an exciting new video highlighting the impact the program has had over the last half century. From left to right are many of the STPF directors from the past: Richard Scribner, Claudia Sturges Scott, Cynthia Robinson, Jennifer Pearl (2002-03 fellow at NSF), along with current director Rashada Alexander (2009-11 fellow at NIH). (Past directors not pictured are: Charles Mosher, William G. Wells Jr., and Stephen D. Nelson.)
Nearly 600 scientists, engineers, alumni fellows and others who work at the intersection of science and policy were in enthusiastic attendance. And many made it onto the dance floor, like these STPF alumni including Kenny Gibbs Jr. (2011-12 fellow at NSF), Christie Canaria (2013-15 fellow at NIH), Beza Seyoum (2014-16 fellow at USAID), Jennifer Shieh (2011-13 fellow at NIH).
“STPF is a living organism comprised of thousands of fellows, partners and supporters. I see a future where we nurture the efforts of alumni in big and important ways. Let’s work together to support and encourage more collaboration among these scientists and engineers who have become movers and shakers in the world of policy. Because together, we can continue to do great things,” said Alexander. “Everyone, please raise a glass: Here’s to the first 50 years of STPF, the first 175 years of AAAS, and to many more years to come!”
10 alumni shared their passion projects, big ideas, and research with other alum in the lounge. Adam Shapiro (2017-19 State Dept.) spoke about Embassy Science Fellows. Anna Quider (2011-14 State Dept.): Launching the Emerging Research Institution Coalition. Roberto Delgado (2013-15 NSF): Towards a sustained Arctic Observing Network for security and climate resilience. Hanny Rivera (2021-22 Dept. of Energy): Using synthetic biology to advance national priorities and biosecurity. Alex Dehgan (2003-05 State Dept.): Creating a diagnostic for every pest, pathogen, and species that needs one - Moonshot DX. Janet Chen (2019-21 State Dept.): Science plays a larger role in the nuclear nonproliferation regime than you might think, and here's how you can be a part of it. Drew Story (2018-19 Congressional): MIT Policy Lab. Kevin Cooke (2021-22 NSF): Connecting research leadership across public universities. Stephanie Davis (2019-20 NIH): Using AI to improve tracking of NIH diversity supplement outcome recipients. Julian Reyes (2019-21 Dept of State): Building climate and community resilience with the USDA Climate Hubs.
On the last day of the meeting, (from L to R) Deborah Stine, Arti Garg (2009-10 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow), Rebecca Aicher (2011-2013 fellow at EPA), Alex Dehgan (2003-05 fellow at the State Department),and Joel Primack looked to the future of science policy. Discussants talked about how the science policy community is expanding the impact of scientific discovery, science-informed decision-making, and the role of engaged scientists and doing so beyond the federal level – at the local, state, regional, and global levels.
The AAAS STPF program continues to recognize and celebrate 50 years of bringing science to policy in Washington this year. And next year, sessions and activities at the AAAS Annual Meeting will continue to take a pulse on the state of science policy in Denver.