Engineers in the Policy World: Internship Program Continues 10-Year Tradition of High-Level Placements

July 27, 2010 — What started with placement of a single intern in former U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode's office has grown into an international policy internship program.

The University of Virginia Engineering School's Science and Technology Policy Internship Program, now in its 10th year, regularly places students in high-level policymaking offices at home and abroad, such as the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy and French Ministry of National Education. This summer, the program placed interns in 18 posts, including offices in Washington, D.C., Buenos Aires and Paris.

During their 10-week internships, the students complete research projects on topics of national and international significance that often are used by the organizations in which they are serving.

In 2006, for example, then-intern Emily Hesaltine made national headlines by helping create the website for the Federation of American Scientists. And, during the 2009 policy intern reception, U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello recognized the work of intern Ryan Turner, a 2010 graduate, in helping to draft and enter the "Strengthening Community Opportunities through Rural Education" legislation.

Michael Rodemeyer, director of the program and adjunct faculty member in the Engineering School's Department of Science, Technology and Society, has noted the increase in the number of students in the internship program this year as well as in the diversity of this year's group, both in their individual disciplines and research topics.

"We have people working on vaccine development at the National Institutes of Health, telemedicine in Virginia, the environmental effects of synthetic microbes and emerging policy issues for NASA and the International Space Station," Rodemeyer said. "These placements continue a tradition of placing students in high-level policy offices where they can do substantive work."

Rodemeyer's experience includes serving as the assistant director for environment in the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy under the Clinton administration. He also served for 15 years in various capacities on the staff of the House Committee on Science, including that of chief counsel. With the help of James H. Turner, senior counsel and director of the Energy Programs for the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities and also a former Democratic counsel for the House Committee on Science, the program has been able to place increasing numbers of students in high-level offices since the program's inception. 

Before the policy interns took their summer positions, they completed a semester-long preparatory course taught by Rodemeyer in which they honed their presentation skills and were introduced to policy issues.

"What I've heard back from the interns is that, compared with other interns they've met this summer, ours have been much better prepared for their assignments," he said. "They've also benefitted from the support of each other as they enter the unfamiliar world of Washington."

Later this month, the policy interns will convene in Washington to meet with fellow interns, mentors, parents, U.Va. engineering faculty and alumni, and other distinguished guests. The events include a reception in the Rayburn House Office Building, student research presentations at the Association of Public Land-Grant Universities and dinner at the home of one of D.C.'s first intellectual societies, the Cosmos Club.

While the interns placed in D.C. offices have had the opportunity to interact with fellow interns from U.Va. and live in dorms with interns from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, two policy interns will be catching up with their peers after working at distant posts. Lauren White, a rising third-year biomedical engineering major, will be returning from Buenos Aires, where she worked with the Pan American Health Organization/Institute of Epidemiological Studies, researching clinical trial policies. Celine Heckel-Jones, a rising third-year civil engineering major, worked for the French Ministry of Education in Paris, where she researched multiple clean-energy policies.

In addition to these high-profile international placements, there were placements within a number of highly recognized domestic offices, including the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, the National Science Foundation's Director's Office, the Virginia governor's office, offices of two members of the U.S. House of Representatives and one U.S. Senator, among others.

Since the program's start, five of its alumni have gone on to win the Outstanding Student Award given by the Engineering School. Alumni also have earned prestigious national honors, such as 2010 mechanical engineering graduate Todd Gerarden, who earned a Truman Scholarship in 2009. 

After graduation, interns take jobs in such world-recognized companies and organizations as NASA, the World Bank, Accenture and McKinsey & Company. During this year's reception in the Rayburn House Office Building, program alumni will discuss how the program has benefited them in their careers.

The Policy Internship Program is made possible by support from the S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation; Sun Microsystems; and Micron Technology; as well as individual donors Ralph Roberson, Dudley and Barbara Nadolny White, and James H. Turner.

— by Zak Richards

The 2010 Policy Interns and Their Placements:
•    Kelly Anderson, third-year, biomedical engineering, U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello (Va.)
•    Michael Backhus, third-year, aerospace engineering, NASA Science Mission Directorate
•    Russell Baird, third-year, chemical engineering, U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (Md.)
•    Katie Dove, third-year, electrical and computer engineering, National Science and Technology Council, Office of Science & Technology Policy, White House
•    Celine Heckel-Jones, third-year, civil engineering, Paris, French Ministry of National Education
•    Sara Hoffberg, fourth-year, systems engineering, Afterschool Alliance
•    Scott Horton, fourth-year, chemical engineering, Department of Energy Buildings Program
•    Lauren Kaufmann, fourth-year, civil engineering, National Capital Parks and Planning Commission
•    Kelly Laustsen, fourth-year, civil engineering, U.S. EPA Office of Science Policy, Office of Research & Development
•    Ray Lee, third-year, systems engineering, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (Va.)
•    Lesley Luginbill, third-year, biomedical engineering, NIH/NIAIDS/Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases
•    Hannah Meredith, third-year, biomedical engineering, Wilson International Center for Scholars, Science and Technology Innovation Program
•    Holly Mull, fourth-year, chemical engineering, NIH/National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering
•    James Muller, third-year, biomedical engineering, National Academy of Sciences/Board on Life Science
•    Christine Nikas, third-year, biomedical engineering, NSF Director's Office
•    Dan Rice, third-year, aerospace engineering, NASA International Space Station/Space Operations Mission
•    Thomas Ruff, fourth-year, civil engineering, Virginia Governor's Liaison Office in Washington
•    Lauren White, third-year, biomedical engineering, Buenos Aires, Pan American Health Organization/Institute of Epidemiological Studies