Get Involved Now! Political Advocacy for STEM

Scott Franklin, Rochester Institute of Technology

As faculty, we are so occupied with our research and teaching that we rarely have time or energy to engage in the political process. And the current political climate hardly encourages involvement. Nevertheless, discussions on Capitol Hill are happening now that will have a very significant impact on our careers: decisions will be made about what activities to fund (and to what extent) that will shape the next several years of STEM education. It is more important than ever for physics faculty to become involved in grass roots advocacy. Fortunately, APS has many resources to help, from editors for letters and op-ed pieces, handouts to help start discussions, and even staff who will escort you around “the Hill” to facilitate meetings.

A recent conference in D.C. gave me the opportunity to advocate on Capitol Hill. Since the conference activities did not begin until the evening, I contacted Aline McNaull, Policy Associate at AIP, and asked if she could escort me around meetings with Congressional Offices. Aline arranged a series of meetings with staff aides, an important conduit to the Senators and Representatives, and explained to me the issue that would dominate the discussions: the House Science Committee’s wrestling with the issues of oversight of NSF. She met me at the offices and sat in on all meetings, introducing me and framing the discussion.

The central focus of the meetings was to explain the peer-review process that functions so well at NSF. I gave my experiences reviewing, including details of how many proposals I would typically review and what a panel discussion was like. We explained the differences between the individual and panel reviews, and how anonymity in the individual reviews is a critical component of the process that should not be threatened by oversight. The aides were extremely intelligent, asked very specific and germane questions (e.g., how peer evaluation at NSF began and evolved into its current form), and discussions were, frankly, a lot of fun. Noticeably absent were ad hominem attacks or other anti-STEM rhetoric or uncomfortable questions about how to resolve the country’s fiscal situation. The aides were clearly grappling with a very difficult question — how Congress can exercise appropriate and legitimate oversight without upsetting the peer-review process — and recognizing that there were no easy answers.

This Fall, Congress will consider renewing the “Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science” (COMPETES) Act. This legislation frames the country’s approach to STEM and STEM education. In it, decisions are made about allocating funds to basic research and STEM Education, budgets are authorized for NIST and NSF, and broad policies defined. We faculty must be a part of these discussions. If we don’t advocate for the issues we find important, who will? Please consider taking the first step by contacting Aline McNaull ( or Scott Franklin ( for more information.

Scott Franklin is a Professor of Physics at RIT. His research interests range from the behavior of granular materials to physics education research. He directs RIT’s Science & Mathematics Education Research Collaborative. Scott is the co-author of “Explorations in Physics: An activity-based guide to understanding the world,” which won the 2012 Science Magazine Prize for Inquiry-based instruction. He is currently the Secretary/Treasurer of the FEd.

Disclaimer–The articles and opinion pieces found in this issue of the APS Forum on Education Newsletter are not peer refereed and represent solely the views of the authors and not necessarily the views of the APS.