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ESP welcomes back their newly-minted 2021 COVES Fellows

The Department of Environmental Science and Policy is pleased to welcome back our PhD students and newly-minted 2021 COVES Fellows, Chelsea Gray and Nikita Lad.  They will both be participating in the virtual 2021 Coves Fellows Forum on August 30, 2021 and giving flash presentations on their fellowship experiences over the summer. Register here to attend:  http://www.vasem.org/2021covesforum/

Both of them shared a summary of their fellowship experience with us.

Chelsea Gray

Chelsea Gray (via email):

During my 2021 COVES fellowship, I was honored to work in Delegate Rodney Willett’s office. Throughout the course of the fellowship, I gained experience in multiple stages of policy development, from initial idea to draft legislation. My research was led by a combination of my expertise, the office’s needs and values, constituent concerns, and shifting concerns within the Commonwealth.

I researched both science and policy on topics of environmental protections, campus sexual assault, public comment periods, and mental health policy. I participated in policy meetings with state agencies and advocacy groups to develop relationships, further research and worked with the legislative aide and member to develop policy recommendations and draft legislation. I produced informational materials that communicate science research and policy for legislative members and the general public and also assisted with responding to constituent emails.

Due to the nature of policy development in Virginia, much of my work will not see fruition for months or even years. Therefore, at the conclusion of the fellowship, I provided the office with a multi-chapter document that can be referred to in the future, providing detailed information about past and current state policy and the current state of research.

This process gave me a deeper understand of how science is used in policy and in the intersection of state and local laws. The fellowship has also allowed to me to create long-term relationships with individuals in the state government, and we have made plans to continue our work on legislation in the upcoming legislative session.

Nikita Lad

Nikita Lad (via email):

The Virginia Academy of Science Engineering & Medicine’s (VASEM) 2021 Commonwealth of Virginia Engineering and Science (COVES) Fellowship was an amazing experience for me as it gave an insight into state-level policymaking. It allowed me to make some meaningful connections and interact directly with the policymakers and stakeholders. I felt privileged to be placed at my host institution i.e., the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).

I was assigned to a project that explored the evolution of any current gaps and the potential need for state policy and/or legislation regarding public funding of “basic research” at Virginia’s universities. It started by looking ata few background resources regarding existing laws, policies, and practices in Virginia, followed by formulating interview questions, conducting interviews with state/government personnel both from the executive and legislative branches, universities' chief research officers, private sector CEOs, and association leaders. These interactions with the host office and stakeholders not only gave me an insight into the formulation of legislation, but also taught the scientist in me the importance of viewing issues from the policymakers' lens.

After analysis of data from secondary (existing laws, policies, and practices) and primary (interviewed stakeholders) sources, I put together a report of recommendations for policy-oriented and non-technical audiences such as the state policymakers and institutional leaders. This was another learning experience for me. My report is now shared by SCHEV’s staff with policymakers at the state and institutional levels and on their website. I gave a presentation to policy leaders based on my findings and was appreciated for my approach to the subject. I was also applauded for being a good listener and able to consolidate so many different opinions and present them in a clear and understandable way. I am glad that I got to take the first step towards bringing “basic research funding” in Virginia’s legislature and that report would not have come to fruition without thoughtful input from professionals that I interacted with.

This project also gave me a true sense of “policy for science” and taught me ways to bring all the information together and place it objectively. Overall, my COVES experience was remarkable because I got to learn from other fellows as a cohort, as well as from the guest speakers' and mentors’ experiences. They inspire you to do more in this space. The 12-week fellowship is planned in a similar way as federal-level fellowships and is an exciting opportunity for those who want to explore this incredible field of science policy.

I would like to thank all the people behind making this fellowship a success, especially George Mason University for participating in the COVES Policy Fellowship program which is a unique way of introducing scientists to the policy world.