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Hundreds of Students Contact Senators and Urge Support of Science Research Programs

By Tawanda W. Johnson


Recently, nearly 200 physics undergraduate students from across the country contacted 80 U.S. senators and requested support for science research opportunities for undergraduates, including those funded by the National Science Foundation. The students made the calls as part of an advocacy campaign supported by the APS Office of Public Affairs (OPA) and the American Institute of Physics’ Society of Physics Students (SPS).

“This campaign was a surprise success. More students participated than we expected, and they contacted key senators who hold positions on important committees that oversee federal funding for science programs,” said Francis Slakey, APS OPA interim director.

Brad Conrad, director of SPS, said it was “fantastic” having SPS and APS OPA work together on such an important campaign, for which SPS reached out to its numerous student chapters. “It was a great initiative … It’s important for students to understand that they are not passive; they have a voice; they vote and can impact the world around them.”

To measure the campaign’s success, Allen Hu, OPA policy analyst, developed a metric for assessing which senators to approach.

“We were looking for a way to measure the effectiveness of our advocacy campaigns,” said Hu. “We developed a metric that assigns a number value to each senator ... based on a few key categories, including if they were in a party leadership position or if they were on the Appropriations Committee,” he explained. The resulting evaluation showed that this was one of the most successful grassroots campaigns OPA has run.

In addition to SPS, OPA also relied on the expertise of Max Magid, a Georgetown student who interned in the Washington, D.C. office during the summer. “I helped connect OPA with members and students who were willing to write their senators in support of our campaign. I also tailored the communications to match the way students think,” said Magid.

Additionally, he helped find contact information for directors of NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates programs who then asked their students to participate in the campaign. “I am pleased it went so well, and I hope APS can use lessons from this campaign to run even more successful ones in the future,” he said.

Conrad echoed that sentiment: “SPS would be glad to work with APS again so that students can work to impact the world around them.”

Similar campaigns will be underway soon, said Greg Mack, APS government relations specialist. He added, “Our goal was to give undergraduates an opportunity to speak up in support of physics. We are elated that this campaign was successful, and we look forward to including SPS in many more campaigns in the future.”

The author is Press Secretary in the APS Office of Public Affairs.

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