Five fellows of 300 (!) in the 50th class cohort take a break at STPF orientation. | AAAS/Kat Song
This September, 300 incoming fellows mark the 50th class of the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship (STPF) program. And for the first time since 2019, the fellows gathered in-person to meet one another, learn the ways of Washington, and prepare for the exciting year ahead.
“AAAS policy fellows have been demonstrating excellence in science policy for the past half-century — defining what it means to be a scientist and engineer in the policymaking realm,” says Rashada Alexander, STPF director and alumna fellow. “In our 50th year of partnership with the U.S. government and many esteemed scientific societies and supporters, we are excited to usher in the newest class and follow their important contributions to policy, science and society.”
This year’s cohort includes 31 fellows who will serve in Congress, 268 executive branch fellows, and one fellow who will serve at the Federal Judicial Center. Each fellow will spend the next year in Washington to contribute their scientific training in the policymaking arena. Fellows include scientists and engineers with a wide array of expertise, from rare genetic diseases to mathematics and energy resiliency.
Check out the STPF 50th Anniversary Timeline to see how the program has grown over the years.
Trenell Mosley, Executive Branch Fellow at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), comes to the STPF program with a Ph.D. in genetics and molecular biology and a keen desire to make scientific institutions more equitable and diverse. Her love of genetics started when a middle-school teacher introduced the concept of genetic pedigrees. “I was really interested in how, just by thinking about a few simple genetic rules, you can trace disease through a family,” she said. A fascination with the study of genetics brought her to Emory University, where her dissertation focused on how studying the genetic causes of rare disorders gives us greater knowledge of human biology.
Beyond a natural inclination for scientific inquiry, a career in academia also spurred an interest in diversity efforts. Recognizing that access to the mentorship and opportunities she’d benefited from isn’t available to every student, she got involved with diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts on campus and became a mentor for students. “I was interested in making sure that people who looked like me, and who came from similar backgrounds, have the opportunities that I had,” she says. Mosley will continue this work as a fellow in the NIH Office of the Director where she will work with Marie Bernard, Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity. One of her projects will be UNITE, a trans-NIH initiative to address structural racism in the biomedical and behavioral research workforce. She’s excited to have a broader impact on diversity efforts that stretch beyond academia, and says she’s been inspired by other fellows in the new cohort.
Courtney Gibbons is a mathematics professor at Hamilton College who had been planning on pursuing the STPF fellowship since her time as a grad student. But her interest in policy started much earlier, when as a child she wrote to the senior President Bush to express disapproval for his public shaming of broccoli. After completing her B.A. at Colorado College, a newfound interest in math inspired her to earn an M.S. and Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Gibbons’ interests led her to the Association for Women in Mathematics, where she served on the Policy and Advocacy Committee and the Executive Committee. Her advocacy work also includes working at a college program for incarcerated men and a high school cryptography camp for girls. Now as a AAAS Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow, she says she’s most excited about learning the inner workings of policymaking. “I want to understand how science fits into the legislation that Congress ultimately writes,” she says.
Her adventurous fellowship year has been made even more so by her status as a brand-new mother to baby Ben, who arrived unexpectedly early during the annual two-week STPF orientation. “I’m super excited that I’m a mom now,” she says, but also “can’t wait to get into Congress and start doing the work.” As a newcomer to Washington, she says she’s immensely grateful for the community of fellows. “We just moved here and we have a baby and it already feels like we've got a support network – that’s just really amazing.”
A physician from Maryland, Walid El-Nahal is an Executive Branch Fellow at NIH. His interest in medicine began early in life, but a fascination with the mechanics of how things work drew him to engineering as an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. As he learned more about biology, this curiosity turned to the inner workings of the human body, which led him to medical school. “The subject matter is fascinating, but I also loved the connections that physicians formed with their patients,” he says.
El-Nahal completed his internal medicine residency at the University of Virginia and infectious diseases training at Johns Hopkins. Throughout his clinical training and interactions with patients, he noticed a recurring theme: many people face a number of barriers to accessing proper care and treatment. “I became very interested in the structural aspects of health care and how policy impacts that,” he says, which brought him to the STPF program. “I felt there weren’t enough voices from the front lines, provider voices, in how health care is structured. I wanted to be someone who is contributing to that conversation. That’s the main goal.”
At the NIH Office of AIDS Research, he’s excited to work on improving access to HIV care, and “getting science from the research stage to the point where it’s actually improving people’s lives.”
Archana Sharma is STPF’s inaugural Executive Branch Fellow at the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. She focuses on developing environmentally conscious, sustainable, and socially equitable cities, drawing from training in environmental science, landscape planning, architecture, and public policy. This wide range of expertise helps her to consider city design and planning from the perspective of how these fields contribute to quality of life. “Although I started out designing buildings and gardens, I wanted to have an understanding of the big picture – of how cities work. I started looking at designs and plans in terms of their fit with the larger ecosystem.”
Sharma’s expertise and training have taken her around the world, from her childhood home in India, to Singapore for graduate studies, and Australia post-graduation. She has taught at several prominent universities, served as an advisor for cities and nonprofits, and is a subject matter expert with the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the United Nations High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Goals.
Bandana Kar, Executive Branch Fellow at the Department of Energy’s Building Technology Office, hails from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory where she was a senior scientist focused on energy resiliency. Her interest in supporting community resilience stemmed from her own experience with a Category 5 hurricane in her family’s hometown in Odisha, India in 1999. After witnessing the widespread damage and loss of life caused by the storm, she studied a wide range of fields that could help her better understand how communities can prepare for natural disasters, including a Ph.D. in geography, a master’s degree in Geographic Information Science, and an undergraduate degree in architecture. An interest in learning more about how her research is being applied at the policy level led her to the STPF program. “I do not know how my research is being used by stakeholders and for policymaking, and that is the reason I joined – to get an experience of the research, policy, and stakeholder interactions,” she says.
Kar hopes that the STPF network will help illuminate how scientists and policymakers come together to address problems for the betterment of society. “Often as scientists, we tend to forget the societal impacts and what we can bring to the table to work with those who make the policies.”
The 50th cohort of the STPF program is filled with impressive scientists like these five fellows who are committed to applying their collective skills and training to improving public policy at the federal level. Their dedication and enthusiasm for their fellowship positions, as well as for coming together as a fellowship class to learn from each other, is already evident. We look forward to following each fellows’ story over the course of their fellowship year, and welcome the entire class to the STPF network and to their new home in the nation’s capital.