Students gain insights into state policymaking through inaugural fellowship

Fellows at Google campus
The inaugural Colorado Science and Engineering Policy Fellowship cohort, with State Representatives Chris Hansen and Bob Rankin, visit the Google campus in Boulder.

Three Colorado State University students participated in the Colorado Science and Engineering Policy Fellowship, a program that places STEM majors in an eight-week summer internship involving STEM policy research, seminars and industry site visits. Fourteen students from CSU, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Denver, Metropolitan State University of Denver, and Colorado School of Mines participated in the program’s inaugural session earlier this summer.

The program was initiated by State Representatives Chris Hansen and Bob Rankin, who want to “increase the presence of individuals in public policy that come from a science and engineering background, as well as develop the next generation of policy and science leaders in Colorado and beyond.” Fellows had time with both Hansen and Rankin throughout the session.

“I was very gladly surprised by how engaged the state representatives were, and how excited they were to bring STEM students into policymaking,” said Zitely Tzompa, Ph.D. student in atmospheric science. “The level of engagement that they have and the support they gave us was something I was not expecting – they were literally there for us.”

Hearing all sides

Each week the fellows participated in different site visits. Among the favorites were the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Google campus in Boulder. Through these visits, students interfaced with many organizations, learning about their advocacy efforts and their approaches to policy, and what they need from future scientists and engineers.

The site visits and seminars taught students the importance of developing network connections, presenting in front of others, and interacting with policymakers and stakeholders. Understanding a diverse range of perspectives was one major takeaway for systems engineering graduate student Wendell Stainsby.

“You can’t just talk to the people who agree with you already – this creates an ‘echo chamber,’” said Stainsby. “We learned how to talk to people from different backgrounds and try to craft a solution or middle-ground compromise from these conversations.”

Practicing policymaking

While learning and gaining inspiration from exploring the real-world landscape of industry and policymaking, fellows worked to create their own policy proposal on a topic they were passionate about. Topics ranged from community solar laws and wind power generation, to homelessness as an environmental issue, to detection and measurement of methane leaks.

Going into the program, participating students had a range of backgrounds and experiences (much like the policymakers and stakeholders they were working with), though drafting a policy proposal was a new exercise for many. And, the experience benefitted government representatives and STEM students alike: policymakers gained input from future teachers, engineers, doctors, and scientists, while the latter group practiced industry-relevant skills like communication, networking, public speaking and critical thinking.

“I hadn’t thought about it before, but I really want to work in public policy,” said Lindsay Burton, master’s student in natural resources stewardship. “Our policy proposals are being picked up by legislators – we’re actually making a difference.”

The second session of the Colorado Science and Engineering Policy Fellowship will take place in the summer of 2019. For any questions regarding the fellowship, contact Chris Hansen at rep.chris.hansen@gmail.com.