Truman Fellowship and the Washington Internships for Students in Engineering (WISE)
As a first-generation American, I feel extremely grateful for the educational and professional opportunities I have here in the United States. This deeply-rooted sense of appreciation has long motivated me to find ways to give back to my community through engineering, sustainability, and volunteer work. In April 2017, I had the honor of winning a Truman Fellowship. This scholarship awards students who have shown potential for leadership in public service by providing funding for their graduate education.
As part of the Truman community, all Scholars also participate in a Summer Institute program where they work in a public policy position during the summer after graduation. I was selected as a Washington Internships for Students of Engineering (WISE) Fellow in Summer 2018, sponsored by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) International. I chose to study trade relations between the U.S. and sub-Saharan Africa and the influence of technical standards on renewable energy development.
This region of the world has special meaning to me because my father was born in Morocco, a developing nation in North Africa on the coast of the Mediterranean. When he was growing up, his dream was to become an engineer and help his country develop critical systems for water and electricity. My passion to better U.S. trade and scientific relations with sub-Saharan Africa comes from this family history of wanting to honor the places we come from.
As a WISE Fellow, I worked to gather primary information from personal interviews with representatives at the Department of Trade and Commerce and secondary sources from the Library of Congress. Using these resources, I crafted a set of policy recommendations to present to policymakers on bettering trade relations. I also had the chance to visit ASTM International headquarters in Pennsylvania and meet people whose mission was to improve capacity building in developing nations. At the end of the summer, I presented my policy paper at the Rayburn House on Capitol Hill to various representatives and staff at ASTM, including the current president, Kathy Morgan.
A large theme of the WISE Program was learning how to distill technical information to a policy-oriented audience. We participated in workshops on understanding the federal budget, how to give a presentation in D.C., and the difference between "policy for science" and "science for policy." One of which considers funding for science, and the other is how to best use science to influence policy.
The WISE program also connected us to various government officials and organizations to learn how engineers can help shape public policy. We visited the Nuclear Regulatory Committee, Rand Corporation, NASA Headquarters, and State Department. I also took advantage of the fact that I was in D.C. to independently organize meetings with female senior administrators at both the National Science Foundation and the National Academy of Science and learn about ways they paved their path to scientific leadership.
The experience was highly beneficial to my career in STEM because it gave me a sense of how I as a research scientist could plug into the policymaking world and influence decision-makers. My policy paper was published in 22nd vol. of the Journal of Engineering and Public Policy.
I recommend any engineer interested in public policy to consider applying at wise-intern.org.