f you happened to be scrolling through the Washington
Post on June 9, 2015, you may have seen an online opinion
piece titled, “Why social sciences are just as important
as STEM disciplines.” The essay was written by Lance
Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering at Cornell,
and it addressed members of the U.S. Congress directly, urging
them to continue funding social science research at current
levels rather than directing funds away from the social sciences
and into engineering and the physical sciences.
Dean Collins’ exhortation to Congress exemplifies one
method engineers have at their disposal for informing public
policy. They can write an article and hope to have it published
in a forum that will garner some attention and reach the
target audience. In these respects, Collins’ essay hit the mark.
Researchers in the social sciences and the physical sciences
were discussing his article in many forums across the Internet.
Lawmakers are known to read the opinion editorial pages of
the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York
Times. When the House and the Senate consider reauthorizing
the America Competes Act funding the National Science
Foundation, they will have heard Dean Collins’ voice.
A person wishing to inform policy can focus her efforts on
swaying public opinion, on influencing policy makers directly
or on becoming a policy maker herself. Cornell Engineering
students, professors and alumni have followed each of these
routes. Dean Collins is merely one example from a college