Turner, Jim, ASEE Prism
Undergraduates gain public policy experience through internships in the nation's capital.
WHAT DO THE offices of several leading senators, the House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee, the White House Office of Management and Budget, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the World Bank have in common? (1) All influence what engineers work on, how they do it, and even how much they are paid. (2) All typically are run by lawyers or those with M.B.A.'s who don't always understand how engineers work or think. (3) And all sing the praises of the talented engineering students that MIT and the University of Virginia (UVa) are sending them each summer, free of charge.
Five years ago, former UVa engineering dean Richard Miksad joined forces with MIT's ongoing schoolwide summer intern program, directed by Tobie Weiner and political science professor Charles Stewart, to design a program that would provide undergraduates with firsthand policy experience in Washington, D.C. Miksad, Weiner, and Stewart recognized the role engineers can and should play in assisting legislators to better understand the technological aspects of public policy. Engineers ignore public policy at their peril. Those making government decisions affecting engineering use the best available information, but if engineers don't help them understand how the world of engineering really works, imperfect solutions can result.
Now, all around Washington,offices are opening their doors to engineering students. Last summer at the White House, the Office of Science and Technology Policy engaged an undergraduate intern from UVa, while an undergraduate engineer from MIT worked at its Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The first intern to work in the Office of the Science Adviser at the State Department was from UVa's engineering school, while the first engineering student to work on patent legislation at the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee came from MIT. Once these offices experience the talent, they usually ask for more students. …