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By Tawanda W. Johnson
Stephanie Mack’s interest in science policy blossomed three years ago owing to a workshop sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) titled “Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE).”
“Hearing issues framed within the context of science policy strongly resonated with me,” she recalled. Mack longed to translate what she had learned on her college campus, but to her dismay, there was no science policy group at the University of California, Berkeley.
With three other like-minded people, she started the Science Policy Group at UC Berkeley (SPG), serving first as the group’s Vice President of Campus Affairs and later its President. The group took off like wildfire, with membership growing to more than 200 during a two-year period.
“I organized crowdfunding campaigns that raised thousands of dollars, and we sent members (of SPG) to advocate in Sacramento and DC, including through the CASE workshop,” she remembered.
Her strong background in science policy will undoubtedly serve her well as the 2021-22 APS Congressional Science Fellow.
“I'm eager to get hands-on experience with the nuts and bolts of Congress from preparing memos to communications work to helping develop legislation,” said Mack, who earned her PhD in physics from UC Berkeley. “But more broadly, I'm excited to meet new people from a diverse array of backgrounds, work in a fast-paced environment, and be flexible in contributing my scientific perspective to current issues.”
Sponsored by APS under the umbrella of the AAAS Science & Technology Fellowships, the aim of the Congressional Science Fellowships is to provide a public service by making scientists available to members of Congress, few of whom have technical backgrounds. In turn, the program enables scientists to broaden their experience through direct involvement with the policymaking process.
Fellowships are for one year, typically running September through August. Following a two-week orientation in Washington, DC, sponsored by AAAS, incoming Fellows become acquainted with their new work environment. After interviews on Capitol Hill, Fellows choose a congressional office or committee where they would like to serve.
“The chance to use my technical background to impact our legislative process and work with true change-makers in a meaningful way cannot be duplicated, and that is why I was eager to submit my application for the fellowship,” Mack said.
In addition to her experience with SPG, Mack boasts an extensive research background, with work at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, UC Santa Barbara, UC Berkeley, SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, and the University of Ottawa. She has also collaborated with world-renowned researchers to discover novel physics in lithium and improve materials for solar energy capture.
“My work was highly interdisciplinary, covering physics, chemistry, materials science, and computational science to understand and predict properties of quantum materials,” she said. “These projects trained me to learn quickly and be open-minded, collaborate productively with people from different technical backgrounds, and develop time-management skills.
Mack’s professional activities include serving on UC Santa Barbara’s Materials Department Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, during which she contributed to a new DEI strategic plan. Additionally, she has participated in APS’s Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CUWiP). Moreover, her accolades are many, including the UC Berkeley Department of Physics Student Service Award and the Molecular Foundry Annual Users’ Meeting Best Student Poster Award.
Gina Banks Daly, Director of Federal Relations in the Office of the Chancellor at UC Berkeley, said Mack is an exemplary choice for the fellowship.
“She is uniquely well-qualified, displaying excellent leadership qualities, interpersonal skills, and is driven by scientific curiosity and an eagerness to improve the interaction between science and society,” said Daly.
Branden Brough, Deputy Director of the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, echoed Banks’ sentiments. “I have seen how Stephanie applies the tools of collaboration—communication, networking, team-building, and group problem-solving—to meet challenges outside of the laboratory,” he said.
Added Mark Elsesser, Director of APS Government Affairs, “Stephanie’s strong commitment to use her scientific and technical skills to help develop and inform legislation on Capitol Hill will make her an extremely valuable staff member to whichever congressional office or committee she chooses for her fellowship year.”
APS remains committed to the Congressional Fellows Program because it enables scientists “to witness and participate in the policymaking process,” said Francis Slakey, APS Chief External Affairs Officer. For more information about the APS Congressional Science Fellowship, visit the fellowship page.
The author is Senior Press Secretary in the APS Office of External Affairs.
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Editor: David Voss
Staff Science Writer: Leah Poffenberger
Contributing Correspondents: Sophia Chen, Alaina G. Levine