women in academia. It ends with a call for greater awareness in
both the academic world and society at large of our conscious
and unconscious biases.
Chris Hernandez, an associate professor in the Sibley
School, has published an essay on Fox News Latino in which
he encourages Mexican-American and Latino families,
teachers and communities to take actions that will encourage
more young people in these communities to pursue science,
technology, engineering and math as a career. He has also
written in support of research on debilitating medical diseases.
Associate professor Claudia Fischbach from the Meinig
School published a widely read opinion piece in the Pacific
Standard. The article, entitled, “Fighting the War on Cancer,” is
a very public plea for cancer researchers, and those who fund
cancer research, to include engineers more often in their work.
“To broaden our understanding of the disease,” Fischbach
writes, “interdisciplinary study between cancer biologists and
engineers should become far more common than it is today.”
While writing an opinion piece for publication, there is
no guarantee it will be accepted, widely read or impactful. Yet
all three are more likely if the person writing has significant
personal or professional experience in the field they are
addressing. This is certainly true of the engineer authors at
Cornell. Their by-line carries a bit more credibility because of
the quality of the work they do and the place they do it.
Another approach to having a significant impact on public
policy is to actually leave the lab and work in the policy realm
for a while. None other than Ezra Cornell himself served in
both the New York State Assembly and the New York State
Senate in the 1860s—as he was founding the university that
bears his name.
Chris Schaffer has not run for a seat in the state
government, but he has developed his ideas about engineers
and policy from a unique position. “In 2012 I was chosen for an
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Science and Technology Fellowship,” says Schaffer, “and I spent
a year working for Representative (and then Senator) Edward J.
Markey of Massachusetts.” Schaffer, whose Arthur H. Guenther
Congressional Science Policy Fellowship was sponsored by
the Optical Society of America and the International Society
for Optics and Photonics, says there are two main goals of the
policy fellowships. “These positions help scientists understand
the policy-making world and they give scientists access to
Schaffer’s work for Congressman Markey was not limited
to issues tied directly to science and technology. In fact, Schaffer
helped prepare position papers and policy recommendations
on topics as diverse as foreign policy, homeland security and
nuclear nonproliferation in addition to science research funding
and STEM education. Where Dean Collins tried to persuade
from the outside, Schaffer thought it was important to learn
about the policy game from the inside. “Very little of what the
government does does not involve science in some way,” says
Schaffer. “And most of what scientists complain about in terms
of science policy is our fault. We don’t know enough about the
reality of how policy is made. Scientists only come knocking at
appropriations time and we throw each other under the bus to
try to get our projects funded.”
Schaffer came away from his policy fellowship with lasting
impressions. “My time in Washington gave me a profound
respect for our system of government,” says Schaffer. “The
United States does hold a special place in the world and has, on
the whole, been a force for good. I was very impressed by the
integrity and thoughtfulness of those I interacted with all along
the political spectrum.” Schaffer believes that policy makers
really do want to make good policy, and that scientists can help
by better understanding the process.
In addition to lasting impressions, Schaffer came away
with an idea for a way to introduce college juniors, seniors,
graduate students and post-doctorates to the world of public
policy. When he got back to campus, Schaffer created a new
course he called Science Policy: Concept to Conclusion (BME
4440). It was offered for the first time in the fall semester of 2013
and has become a popular class. During the semester students
hear from Cornell faculty and visiting government officials
about how policy is made.
But the main focus of the class is the creation of a plan
to address a key science policy issue. Students work in small
groups to identify an issue they are interested in. They then
spend the semester formulating a detailed plan to address the
issue and implementing the plan out in the world. Students
have produced technical reports, drafted model legislation,
submitted comments on state or federal rulemaking processes,
written legal briefs, launched public outreach campaigns
and published opinion articles. “It is the most fun I have had
teaching a course in my career,” says Schaffer. “It’s like I am
running my own science policy NGO and we get to take on
three or four new topics each year.”
So far, four students from the science policy class have
gone on to win AAAS Science and Technology Fellowships.
The look on Schaffer’s face as he reports this fact betrays how
proud and excited he is that more young scientists are getting
involved in the world of policy.
One of the researchers from Schaffer’s lab to spend two
years as an AAAS Science and Technology Fellow is Dr.
Catharine Young. Young, whose post-doctoral research in
the Schaffer Lab examined the interactions between different
Cornell alumni gather in front of the Lincoln Memorial as part of the
university’s sesquicentennial celebration in Washington, D.C.