Alumni Fellows Make Their Mark in the Nonprofit World

After completing their fellowships, many STPF alumni are attracted to working at nonprofit organizations. Some like their group’s mission to benefit others or the planet, while others find more freedom and flexibility than in government or for-profit groups. While compensation rates can be lower than those at for-profit companies, a person’s satisfaction can make non-profits the best fit, said Maeve Boland, director of geoscience policy at the American Geosciences Institute. “It’s a deliberate decision to go into the public sector or the private sector – you go wherever you feel good,” she said.

Boland had two fellowships: she was the American Geophysical Union Congressional Science Fellow from 2009 to 2010 where she worked on energy policy, and an Executive Branch Fellow at the U.S. Geological Survey from 2010 to 2012, where she studied how the U.S. could maintain its access to critical minerals. She joined AGI in 2013. The organization is a federation of geoscience societies with a range of technical interests and policy issues, including water supplies, energy production, mining, climate change, and natural hazard planning.

Her fellowship experiences gave her a good understanding of how the legislative and executive branches work and what the people in those offices need, which helps her frame issues and present information more effectively with policymakers, Boland said. “Our job is to link the geosciences with policymakers. So the more you understand both of those, the more effective you can be.”

Boland and her team are currently preparing to advocate for geosciences to a new federal administration and Congress, and is working on a new initiative to educate policymakers at the state and local level about geoscience resources.

Uday Varadarajan is a theoretical physicist by training. He began his Executive Branch Fellowship in 2006 at the Department of Energy working on a carbon sequestration program, and was later detailed to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee to advise on funding energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

“For me, it was fortuitous because it gave me a chance to deal with other issues,” particularly federal funding and loans, Varadarajan said. After his fellowship, Varadarajan joined the Office of Management and Budget in 2008, just as the financial crisis began. He began working on DOE’s energy efficiency and renewable energy programs, but was later diverted to work on federal loans to automakers to fund advanced technology vehicles. The program helped keep Ford and Tesla afloat, he said. “I spent a lot time thinking about financing and loan programs,” he said, and later worked on a loan for Solyndra and other renewable energy companies.

Two years later, Varadarajan joined the then-newly formed Climate Policy Initiative (CPI), working in its energy finance program to work on creating private financing for clean energy sources. He also advises states and policymakers on how to transition their electricity systems to clean energy sources.

“We are blessed with some of the best renewable resources in the world, particularly wind and solar. As costs come down, you have to go out of your way to not build renewable plants,” he said. However, while working within the federal government, he realized that private finance is critical to make the transition happen more quickly. “The federal loan guarantee system is not enough--we need trillions of dollars of capital,” Varadarajan said.

Working at a nonprofit like CPI, which initially had one major funder, gave him “an opportunity to jump in and spend significant time working on these issues,” without many other distractions. Now that he is a principal, and the organization has grown, Varadarajan has added fundraising to his work skills. “One of the wonderful things about a nonprofit is that you can decide the direction of the work and convince others it’s the best way to do it,” he said.

Carolyn Shore was a congressional fellow sponsored by the American Society for Microbiology in 2011 to 2012, and then an Executive Branch Fellow at the State Department from 2012 to 2014. On the Hill, Shore worked on science and public health policy, including legislation on antibiotic use in food animal production. While at the State Department, she worked in the Office of Agricultural Policy on food safety and plant and animal issues in international trade.

“That was an interesting place for a microbiologist to end up,” Shore said. “Much of the work we did was about opening up trade for the US agriculture and food industry, and a lot of it was several steps removed from the science.”

After her fellowship, Shore wanted to do work that would draw more upon her technical expertise, she said. She found what she was looking for at the Pew Charitable Trusts, where she is an officer in its antibiotic resistance project. She focuses on promoting innovation of new antibiotics for patients with unmet medical needs by working with government agencies and other stakeholders to encourage drug development and remove barriers to research and development.

“I like Pew because it’s evidence-based and non-partisan,” Shore said. It gives her more freedom than she had while working for Congress or the U.S. government, she said, because there “you’re always representing an individual or institution. Here, our job is furthering the public good,” Shore said. “That’s something I really value about this position.”