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By Tawanda W. Johnson
If the 2022 virtual APS Congressional Visits Day (CVD) had a theme, it would likely be: “teamwork makes the dream work.” That’s because 69 APS members, with diverse expertise and backgrounds, worked especially well together while advocating for APS’s science policy priorities during 103 meetings with congressional staff and three members of Congress.
“This year’s CVD was a study in what great teamwork looks like. Some members were experienced in speaking with members of Congress, and others were brand new advocates,” said Callie Pruett, APS Senior Strategist for Grassroots Advocacy. “Yet, everyone supported each other’s advocacy and helped their teammates reach their full potential. I was thrilled with their enthusiasm. All in all, this CVD was one of our best ever.”
Similar to last year, to prepare for the event, APS developed concise and engaging information about the Society’s science policy priorities. That content was featured on a widely praised user- and mobile-friendly website that was accessible by congressional staffers. APS members met with one another between meetings to ask questions, and provide real-time feedback to APS Government Affairs staff.
APS members Beverly Hartline and Serenity Engel met with Elizabeth Lloyd, a congressional staffer in the office of US Representative Dusty Johnson (R-SD-At-Large District).
During their meetings, volunteers advocated for five science policy priorities, which were determined with input from APS members and leaders. They asked Congress to: complete the Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations, avoiding a full-year continuing resolution, and prioritize funding for key federal science agencies; support the “Keep STEM Talent Act,” which would enable international STEM graduate students to both state their intent to stay in the US and pursue careers after graduation and provide them a path to a green card if they secure job offers from US employers after graduation; support appropriations matching the authorization levels for the National Science Foundation’s Robert E. Noyce Teacher Scholarship program and champion legislation improving the program’s effectiveness in recruiting and retaining qualified K-12 STEM teachers; develop a national strategy for measuring methane emissions and develop a national database of methane emissions observations; and require a realistic testing and assessment program for US Missile Defense systems, including the Ground-based Midcourse defense, to help improve the reliability of these systems.
As with all CVDs, volunteers use their own personal time away from their busy careers and other commitments to represent themselves (and not their institutions) as they advocate for crucial science policy issues.
“I'm thrilled to report that CVD 2022 was a great experience,” said Robin Selinger, Speaker of the APS Council and physics professor at Kent State University.
“Our team’s diversity was our strength, with graduate student Anisha Singh from Stanford, Bob McKeown from Jefferson Lab and Caltech, and me from Kent State in Ohio. Our most exciting meeting of the day was with Congressman Mike Garcia (R-CA-25th). Anisha was a highly effective advocate in her lead role in the meeting with the congressman who represents her home district. We left the meeting feeling hopeful that he will support at least one of the legislative initiatives she presented.”
Selinger continued, “Bob was also a huge asset to our team. His experience as Deputy Director for Science at Jefferson Lab meant that he could well explain—from personal experience—the wasteful inefficiencies that arise when federal agencies operate under a continuing resolution. Plus, Bob was a very effective advocate on monitoring methane emissions, a topic he deftly connected to the historic success of air pollution monitoring in California.”
Richard Spencer, a medical physicist at the National Institutes of Health and chair of the APS Topical Group on Medical Physics, said his team also worked well together.
“The CVD reminds us that, in addition to our research, we must also make ourselves heard regarding critical issues facing our profession and society. Including diverse voices allows us to speak even more powerfully, with a wide range of personal experiences and perspectives being put forward,” Spencer said. “The newest members of the Maryland team this year, Kandice Tanner and Sally Zhang, exemplified this. As younger female foreign-born physicists, their stories and viewpoints were absolutely compelling to Jim Adams and me, but much more importantly to the congressional staff we met with throughout the day."
Zhang, Assistant Research Scientist at Johns Hopkins University and Secretary/Treasurer of the APS Topical Group on the Physics of Climate, said her CVD experience was a positive one that she plans to use to benefit the physics community.
“A glimpse at science from the policymaker’s perspective has motivated me to stay engaged with the public and become a more effective communicator of climate science. I look forward to working with APS in the future to elevate the profile of physicists in policymaking,” she said.
Jim Adams, APS Councilor and Chief of Radiation Physics at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, echoed Spencer’s sentiments about the Maryland team.
“Kandice and Sally were simply delightful to work with. They are first-rate professionals who possess a clear understanding of the issues that we presented,” said Adams. “Kandice and Sally each brought relevant and compelling backstories, making that all-important human connection that truly lands the point and makes it memorable. It is a wonderful, if simple, example of how diversity of experience can lead to better outcomes.”
Beverly K. Hartline, retired professor emerita from Montana Technological University, and Serenity Engel, a junior majoring in physics at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, also spoke glowingly about their CVD experience.
“Serenity is amazing. She brilliantly sold the APS priorities for Fiscal Year 2022 R&D funding appropriations and qualified K-12 teachers by sharing her personal experiences doing federally funded undergraduate research and growing up in a small rural community in South Dakota, where the high school did not even offer physics,” said Hartline. “This really resonated with the congressional staff of our predominantly rural states.”
Added Engel, “Bev brought in great examples for the visa [issue] from her extensive career as a graduate dean and in research administration, seeing talented students forced to leave [the US] after completing their degrees, taking with them the state-of-the-art intellectual property developed during their master’s or doctoral projects, and depriving the US and local communities of the economic development benefits. She was also able to explain the significance of the methane emissions and missile defense studies, so most of the staffers requested more information.”
Mark Elsesser, Director of APS Government Affairs, said he was thrilled to hear the stories of how well APS members worked together.
“It’s great to hear that the CVD teams drew on the strength of each other’s experiences and backgrounds to advocate for crucial science policies that will benefit the entire physics community,” he said. “Bringing diverse voices and perspectives to our advocacy efforts is a priority for APS Government Affairs because we know the positive impact that doing so has on reaching our members’ policy goals.”
The author is APS Senior Public Relations Manager.
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