On Nov. 29, the UCR School of Public Policy (SPP) held a seminar titled “2018 Midterms: What Did Science Win and Lose at the Ballot Box.” The seminar was hosted by Susan Hackwood, director of the Science to Policy (S2P) program, a new program with the intention to get more STEM students involved with government affairs The seminar was also hosted by Doug Brown, the associate program director for S2P. “According to the election results, many strong advocates for science such as Rep. Barbara Comstock have been ousted from Congress, making it a ‘significant loss’,” stated Hackwood. “(The future is) tentative about science policy and how it may end up. We hope that our S2P program can help bring progress into the legislative realm,” she continued.

According to Hackwood, who was also the founding dean of the Bourns College of Engineering, S2P is “a brand new program with the goal to bring policy issues related to STEM to the forefront.” Brown stated that “the program trains students in the STEM disciplines to be involved with legislative processes and act as a liaison between scientists and policy makers.” Though the program is currently focused on helping graduate STEM and public policy students, Hackwood said “we hope to offer potential opportunities to undergraduate students as well.” According to Anil Deolalikar, the founding dean of SPP, “students see an importance in STEM policy, especially after seeing some pushbacks in D.C. Our S2P program will offer workshops, lectures, and seminars for students at UCR, and I believe that we should offer it to more than just graduate students.”

Hackwood emphasised why it is important to focus on science policy. “Just because you have facts, doesn’t mean people always listen to you. Our long term goal is to eventually be the ‘go to’ for local officials when they need information,” Hackwood continued.

Benjamin Sommerkorn, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in Mechanical Engineering, is a part of the S2P Student Advisors team. “The S2P program is unique because of its opportunities for STEM students, but also because it is highly student led,” he stated. “Scientists should be involved with politics, because science is political and should be political,” Sommerkorn said.

In regards to helping STEM students get a better grasp on tackling policy issues, S2P “(sends) students to a training program in Sacramento. The training is a fellowship, which acts as a distilled version of the prestigious AAAS fellowship and is brought to the campus,” stated Brown.  The fellowship program, known as the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) Science Fellowship, aims to recruit STEM PhD students. According to the CCST website, the program gives students the opportunity to “work as legislative staff within the State Senate or State Assembly.”

According to Brown, “In our trainings and in the program, we try to convey STEM research through writing and develop communication skills. Tangible outcomes of the program include creating policy memos and op-eds submitted for publications.” Though the program is new, the alumni of S2P have already gotten involved in the public policy field. “Seventy-five percent of STEM students in the S2P program stay in public policy, and alumni end up getting jobs in government agencies, Washington D.C., and are even hired directly by the state legislature,” stated Brown.  

Hackwood explained, “Currently we have students involved with the STEM Solutions in Public Policy Award Competition (SPPAC), formulating proposals relating to water problems, environmental DNA, and citrus agriculture. All three of these topics are what Riverside is known for, so their research is relevant.” According to the competition website, the STEM SPPAC recognizes proposals for new California state legislation from University of California graduate students in STEM fields. Winners receive a $750 research stipend and their ideas can potentially translate into concrete legislation.

More information on the S2P program can be found on the S2P website. “If students have ideas they wish to suggest, feel free to let us know because we are always open to expanding the program,” Sommerkorn said.