Take it from those who know: Legislators in states with science policy fellowship programs could not be happier with the results.
Missouri Rep. Louis Riggs, a member of NCSL’s Science Policy Fellowship Advisory Committee, says having science policy fellows is a “luxury for us, but at the same time, it has become a necessity.” Highly trained engineers and scientists complete fellowships with the MOST Policy Initiative, preparing short, nonpartisan policy briefs called “Science Notes” at the request of state legislators. Fellows translate the research around complex issues into digestible information that can be used to inform policy decisions. Riggs has the organization on speed dial, calling on the fellows at MOST two to three times a month during session. “As citizen legislators, these types of programs are absolutely essential,” Riggs says. “I have no idea what I’d do without them.”
Policymakers in Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Washington and West Virginia may soon have access to new resources for science and technology expertise. Using a competitive grant process, NCSL’s Center for Results-Driven Governing, with support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, awarded planning grants of $100,000 to nonpartisan organizations in each state—an opportunity to spend the next year consulting stakeholders and developing or implementing fellowship programs to serve state legislatures. The application process for a second round of funding will open in spring 2024 to select up to five additional grantees.
Science policy fellowships help build relationships between scientists and policymakers, allow scientists to engage in the policy process and provide legislators quick and direct access to research and research networks.
The fellowships are not new to states, and similar grant opportunities in the past have provided seed funding. The Eagleton Institute’s Science and Politics Fellowship at Rutgers University is now partly funded with a dedicated line item in the annual state budget. But New Jersey Sen. Andew Zwicker, also a member of NCSL’s advisory committee and a founder of New Jersey’s program says, “It all started with the planning grant.”
Meet the 2023 Grantees
The University of Arizona envisions establishing a sustainable science and technology policy fellowship program that places postgraduate professionals in the fields of science, engineering and public health directly in the Arizona Legislature. Fellows would serve as full-time, in-house experts able to rapidly address scientific and technical questions. To elevate its approach, the university plans to bolster existing bipartisan support for the program by collaborating with Arizona stakeholders and successful programs in other states.
“Legislators will have direct and immediate access to accurate scientific assessments and technological information crucial to issues Arizona faces today,” Kevin Lansey, University of Arizona professor and project lead, says.
The Institute of Science and Policy, a project of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, received an NCSL planning grant to support a science policy fellowship program, connect scientists with state lawmakers and generate engagement opportunities for scientists and engineers. “In a world of increasingly complex public policy challenges, it’s our goal at the institute to enhance the interface between science and decision-making,” says the institute’s director, Kristan Uhlenbrock, in a recent news release. “This grant provides Colorado an amazing opportunity to find a way to increase access to scientific information and engagement with state elected officials.”
The program proposal received bipartisan support from state legislators and institutional support from the Colorado Local Science Engagement Network, a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
NCSL awarded the planning grant to a partnership between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Science and Technology Policy Fellowship Program (COPA-STEP) and Christine Kirchhoff, associate professor and associate director of the Penn State Law, Policy and Engineering Initiative, to build support for a science and technology policy fellowship. The project aims to enhance relationships between Penn State University and the General Assembly, strengthen support for the program and train a new generation of science and technology fellows.
Championing the proposal, Rep. Jordan A. Harris, majority chair of the Appropriations Committee, wrote in a letter of support, “When I first spoke with the young leaders of COPA-STEP several years ago, I immediately believed that this is a program Pennsylvania’s General Assembly, and our entire state, could benefit from.”
NCSL awarded a science policy program planning grant to the Washington State Academy of Sciences. “As an organization, WSAS’s mission is to provide Washington state policymakers with objective scientific and technical advice as they craft policies and make decisions,” says John Roll, the organization’s president, in a recent announcement. WSAS members accomplish that mission by advising legislators, state agencies and the governor’s office on scientific projects that may span months or years. Working with stakeholders, WSAS will spend the next year planning a nonpartisan fellowship program to augment the organization’s advising capacity.
“These fellowships are a win-win for policymakers and scientists,” Donna Gerardi Riordan, WSAS executive director, says.
“Science and technology are at the heart of today’s increasingly complex public policy challenges,” says Joan Centrella, director of the Bridge Initiative for Science and Technology Policy, Leadership, and Communications at West Virginia University, in a statement announcing the program’s selection as an NCSL grantee.
The Bridge Initiative is using the NCSL planning grant to fund a fellowship program providing the Legislature with rigorous, nonpartisan science and technology policy research and analysis. The fellows will provide lawmakers with digestible overviews through a scientific and technical lens, outlining current policies, opportunities and challenges in West Virginia and other states with similar issues.
The program recently selected two full-time fellows holding doctoral STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) degrees to begin serving lawmakers in January. “This award from NCSL’s Center for Results-Driven Governing will provide West Virginia state legislators with ‘on-demand’ access to science and technology resources as important inputs to the policymaking process,” Centrella says.
NCSL’s State Science Policy Fellowship Initiative
With commitment to nonpartisanship and evidence-informed policymaking, and with support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, NCSL’s Center for Results-Driven Governing launched the state science policy fellowship project in November 2022. The project aims to increase legislator and legislative and executive branch staff awareness about state science policy fellowship programs, and to support existing state programs as well as states interested in developing new programs. In addition to managing the planning grant process, the Center for Results-Driven Governing coordinates a peer-learning network, providing existing and developing programs the opportunity to share best practices, tools and strategies.
Kaylee Pickinpaugh was a policy analyst in NCSL’s Center for Results-Driven Governing; Darci Cherry is the center’s director.