University News

Graduate Students Travel to Washington to Advocate for Science

Graduate students Raymond Caraher, Sarah Deckel, Timothy Nsubuga and Katrina Zarrella Smith attended the Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE) workshop March 26-29 in Washington D.C. Hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), this workshop introduced students to the federal policy-making process and strategies to effectively communicate research to policy makers. On the final day, participants from UMass Amherst and Boston University tested their skills in meetings with congressional staff from the offices of Sens. Ed Markey, Susan Collins and Elizabeth Warren, and staff from the offices of Reps. Jake Auchincloss and Jim McGovern.

Timothy Nsubuga, Katrina Zarrella Smith and Raymond Caraher. Credit: Shana Passonno
Pictured from left: Timothy Nsubuga, Katrina Zarrella Smith and Raymond Caraher (not pictured, Sarah Deckel). Credit: Shana Passonno

For Nsubuga, civil and environmental engineering, the CASE workshop deepened his thinking about the intersection of environmental and water resources engineering and policy.

“My biggest takeaway is that science does not lead to one clear policy but that opinions based on science can help create a set of viable policies,” he says, adding that the workshop instilled a sense of responsibility to think beyond research activities and imagine his role in the policy landscape.

“There are so many layers to how science is funded through policy and Congress,” Deckel, environmental conservation, says, reflecting on the scale of science policy. “It’s certainly an effort that requires collaboration and communication from all fields of STEM, and the CASE workshop left me feeling inspired.”

She says she also learned the value of communicating science efficiently. “Some of these representatives only have a few minutes to devote to your meeting, and you need to deliver an empowering message about science advocacy in those few minutes. It was motivating to confidently practice this method in the workshop,” Deckel says.

Zarrella Smith, organismic and evolutionary biology, says that she was inspired by the community.

“As an early career fisheries scientist, most of my professional experiences have been with people in the biological sciences,” she says. “CASE brought together scientists from diverse STEM fields with a strong interest in using their science to improve societal outcomes in areas such as energy systems, agriculture, women’s health and rights, cloud computing, early education and so many more important fields. I came away with a sense of community knowing that we share similar goals and can accomplish them best by learning from each other’s experiences and reaching across aisles to work together.”

Caraher, economics, says that he appreciated the opportunity to observe and apply the skills in action. After attending a congressional hearing, where the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions questioned the Starbucks CEO on its labor practices, Caraher recalled, “It was electrifying to see Sen. Bernie Sanders and others at work.”

Caraher also had a chance to engage in Hill meetings. “This marathon of meetings provided excellent practice in communicating our research to Hill staff and gave me a chance to emphasize the importance of social science funding, and that it can’t be left out of these larger science initiatives,” he says.

Participation in the 2023 CASE Workshop was sponsored by the Graduate School, College of Engineering and College of Natural Sciences. Since its creation in 2014, 20 graduate students have been selected through a competitive campus application process to represent UMass Amherst in the CASE workshop and subsequent meetings on the Hill.