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Transcending Boundaries at a Global Scientific Meeting


STPF alumnus fellow Paul Lartey with current fellow Dominique Carter. | Kat Song/AAAS

The AAAS Annual Meeting 2019 teemed with news, learning and sharing – as well as Science & Technology Policy Fellows. Thousands of scientists, engineers, educators, policymakers and journalists from around the world convened in Washington on February 14-17 around the theme of “Science Transcending Boundaries.”

AAAS President Margaret Hamburg, a former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, echoed that theme saying that scientists should resist trends toward nationalism and that international collaborations are essential to addressing critical research challenges. In his first major public address, White House science adviser Kelvin Droegemeier told meeting attendees that American science would benefit from stronger connections between government and industry.

National Science Foundation Director France Córdova at the 2019 AAAS Annual Meeting. | Robb Cohen Photography & Video

National Science Foundation (NSF) Director France Córdova gave remarks at the annual Science Policy Networking Mixer. Addressing a crowd of more than 350, she said: “NSF needs quality feedback about the efficacy and potential impact of its approaches to addressing the big, challenging questions of our time. Where are we going to get that expertise? One important source is the AAAS S&T Policy Fellows. They help us learn. They teach us. We value their input. And we appreciate how they support and enhance the mission of NSF and other federal agencies.”

Hosted by the S&T Policy Fellowship program (STPF) and the Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy (COSEPP), the mixer is an important opportunity for science policy leaders from government, academia, and the private and nonprofit sectors to network and learn from each other.

For STPF, the annual meeting was a prime opportunity for building relationships and serving as a platform for fellows to communicate their science.

  • Approximately 12 scientific sessions and career workshops featured and/or were organized by fellows.
  • More than 350 people attended the Science Policy Networking Mixer.
  • Eight current fellows orchestrated the first live Annual Meeting Daily Wrap-ups. Watch the videos on the STPF Facebook page.
  • Three fellows participated in the meeting’s first Science Policy Hackathon. Fellows attended sessions and produced a report on how the research presented in those sessions could potentially impact policy.
  • One fellow, Rubin Baskir (2017-19 Executive Branch Fellow at the National Institutes of Health), presented an extremely popular Flash Talk on “Engagement and the All of Us Research Program.”
  • A handful of fellows judged e-posters and others recorded a podcast.
  • Over 50 alumni fellows participated in a brainstorming session on how to launch a formal alumni network and projects.
  • Nearly 40 fellows supported recruiting efforts at the STPF exhibit table.


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Of particular note for the STPF program was a brainstorming meeting for alumni fellows – an initial step toward determining what would be of value to the diverse group of STPF’s 3,000+ alumni and developing an alumni structure to meet those aims. The session attracted 65 alumni to consider activities that could benefit both the policy process and the individuals in the STPF network. Ideas included social networking events, online forums, mentoring, and resource networks for topical and local policy issues. The meeting was convened by STPF staff and the STPF Alumni Innovation Working Group: Keshia Ashe (2017-19 Executive Branch Fellow at the National Science Foundation); Margaret Goud Collins (1992-93 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow sponsored by the Geological Society of America); Ali Nouri (2008-09 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow sponsored by AAAS); and LaKisha Odom (2013-15 Executive Branch Fellow at the Department of Agriculture). They will consider the suggestions and develop a roadmap for action. One unambiguous need that came forth was a more up-to-date database of alumni. The working group will immediately mobilize a task force to work with AAAS to update the alumni information and networking systems, to serve as a framework for future impact.

Following are just a few of the sessions that involved STPF fellows and that ran the gamut of topics and issues.

At “Science Informing Policy: Responsible Decision Making,” Angela Bednarek (2004-06 Executive Branch Fellow) at the Pew Charitable Trusts challenged each member of the audience to merge science, practice and policy and be a “boundary spanner” working between science and decision-making to create a comprehensive and inclusive knowledge exchange process.

"Congress uses science all the time, largely in support of already established positions," said Karen Akerlof (2016-17 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow sponsored by the American Geophysical Union) in a session focused on the growing evidence on how to communicate scientific data and findings effectively to policymakers. Liz Suhay of American University commented, "There are more opportunities for bipartisanship than people realize."

Zewe Serpell (2017-18 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow sponsored by the American Educational Research Association) at Virginia Commonwealth University led a session, How People Learn: A New Look, that covered the ways in which “How People Learn II” updates and broadens the content in the wildly popular “How People Learn” report of 2000 – one of the most popular reports ever published by the National Academies Press.

At “The Fourth National Climate Assessment: Advancing Science, Informing Decisions,” experts including the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s David Reidmiller (2010-11 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow sponsored by the American Meteorological Society and 2011-12 Executive Branch Fellow) and the EPA’s Keely Maxwell (2012-14 Executive Branch Fellow) discussed the National Climate Assessment Volume II and how to use it as a tool for educating the public.

Ashley Huderson and STPF Director Jennifer Pearl. | Kat Song/AAAS


At a workshop designed to equip attendees with strategies and resources for learning and engaging in policy across all career stages, Ashley Huderson (2015-17 Executive Branch Fellow) said, “The STPF fellowship gives you access to a lot of things – and a lot of people.” She was joined by alumni including STPF Director Jennifer Pearl (2002-03 Executive Branch Fellow), Christie Canaria (2013-14 Executive Branch Fellow), and Christopher Spitzer (2011-13 Executive Branch Fellow and 2010-11 Congressional Science & Engineering Fellow sponsored by the American Institute of Physics).

STPF staff (L-R: Olga Francois, Jessica Soule, Kat Song and Zack Everett) communicate the value of the fellowship program. | Kat Song/AAAS


We look forward to “Envisioning Tomorrow’s Earth” – the theme for the Annual Meeting 2020 in Seattle February 13-16, 2020. Session proposals are being accepted now and the deadline to submit is April 18.