For many visitors to the Nation’s Capital, spotting a United States senator, or other political VIP, is a highlight of their trip. But one of the IEEE students who participated in the 2016 Washington Internships for Students of Engineering (WISE) says that having lunch with an expert on national security and economic policy was his most memorable experience.
While Michael Crenshaw was attending a foreign policy conference in June at The Cato Institute, he sat down at a table for the luncheon presentation--and Eugene Gholz, one of the morning speakers, took the last seat--next to the WISE intern. Given Crenshaw’s passions--he is studying computer science with a concentration in information security, is very interested in freedom of communication, and is a champion policy debater--he delighted in a conversation with Gholz that ranged from foreign policy to debate styles.
This year, IEEE-USA, IEEE Technical Activities and the IEEE Life Members Committee sponsored three WISE interns. Crenshaw is a senior, on track to receive his Bachelor of Science, in May 2017, from Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Va. The other two interns are Logan DiTullio, a junior studying electrical engineering--with a focus on power and energy--at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C.; and Jennifer Madary, who expects to graduate this December from Pennsylvania State University, in University Park, Pa., where she is studying biomedical engineering.
The WISE student internship program began in 1980. Over the years, it has shown hundreds of the most gifted engineering students from throughout the United States how government officials make decisions on complex technological issues, and the role of engineers and scientists in contributing to the legislative process and regulatory decision-making. The students spend nine summer weeks in Washington, technology and public policy intersects.
In addition, each student is responsible for independently researching, writing and presenting a paper, on an engineering-related public policy issue of importance to the sponsoring society. The WISE students receive guidance from a prominent engineering/public policy professional, who is their Faculty-Member-in-Residence. This year, Michael Marcus, an IEEE Fellow and an authority on telecommunications policy, served in this post.
The three students sponsored this year by IEEE recently shared their thoughts about their WISE internships, their aspirations and themselves.
Q: Where are you from? And what do you like best about your hometown?
Crenshaw: My hometown is Millington, Tennessee, a small community about 45 minutes north of Memphis. I like it because of its lack of pretentiousness. The people are very real. Also, most of my friends are there.
DiTullio: I was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, but I’ve spent most of my life in Charleston, South Carolina. What I enjoy most about it is that I’m 10 minutes from the beaches, swimming in the ocean, kayaking and other water sports in hot weather.
Madary: I’m from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and I love the rural atmosphere. Many Amish and Mennonites live in the area, and horse-drawn carriages on the roads are a common sight. Lancaster is also a nice place for families to live.
Prior to your WISE internship, had you visited Washington, D.C.?
Crenshaw: Two years ago, I spent the summer as a D.C. tour guide through a National 4-H Council program. Getting to know Washington, and all the buildings and monuments, was a great experience.
DiTullio: I should have been on a class trip from Charleston to Washington during 8th grade, but my father, who’s on the College of Charleston faculty, was on sabbatical—so, we were living in California. That year, my 8th grade class visited several national parks; they were beautiful, but Washington offers an incredible amount of history.
Madary: I visited Washington once before with my family; but I was very young, so I don’t remember very much about it.
Why did you apply for a WISE internship, and how do you expect to benefit from it?
Crenshaw: I really enjoyed my time as a tour guide, so I knew I wanted to come back. I also knew that because a WISE internship involves technology policy, I’d have an opportunity to talk to others without an agenda. I needed to understand how Washington approaches technology, because I expect my career will involve dealing with technologies regulated by the government.
DiTullio: I applied because I wanted an internship outside North Carolina, and when I researched WISE it ranked very highly. Being exposed to the policy side of engineering has now changed how I think about the profession. I don’t necessarily want to be on the research side, and it’s cool to see how many different paths you can take.
Madary: During the summer of 2015, I worked in lab research, and it made me realize I don’t want to work in a closed-off area. WISE offered an opportunity to learn the policy aspects, which are much more interesting to me, along with getting to meet many different people in a variety of agencies.
What is the topic of your paper and presentation?
Crenshaw: I feel passionate about freedom of communication via technology, so I’m researching what I call “license plates for drones”--how to resolve privacy concerns using remote identification technology. We need to find the least interventional ways for civilians to securely operate drones, while still keeping things open to innovation.
DiTullio: My topic is how to use recreational and commercial drones more safely, without infringing on privacy rights. Mostly, I’m examining the use of UAVs in highly populated and suburban areas--including their use for spying through home windows and office buildings.
Madary: I’ve been researching cyber security vulnerabilities and threats to implantable medical devices. More than 1.2 million cardiac pacemakers are currently in use in the United States, plus implantable cardiac defibrillators and insulin pumps. Because these devices are wireless, and are connected to wireless networks, hackers could easily get into the devices and exploit someone. Because of this possibility, Richard Cheney had his pacemaker disconnected from a network while he was Vice President.
What have you learned from your WISE internship?
Crenshaw: Until this summer, I thought of tech policy as a "black box"--with Congress and federal agencies making decisions, and everyone else figuring out how to work around them. WISE taught me that regulation is a two-way street between technologists and regulators--and I want to learn how policy and politics can best enable innovation and free expression.
DiTullio: I learned a great deal about communicating with others--especially, talking to people like CEOs and CTOs, who are in positions far above me. I’ll be going into the workforce in a few years, and being more comfortable when talking with senior executives is important to me. I’ve also met some amazing and inspirational people: Dr. Michael Marcus, our Faculty Member in Residence, championed Wi-Fi band applications 30 years ago--when others didn’t think it was possible. Cyrus Roohi, a senior R&D engineer with the Federal Aviation Administration, also inspired me; he has been very involved with the new regulations for commercial unmanned aerial systems.
Madary: My WISE internship has exposed me to so many different experiences and meeting many new people. All this has really brought me out, and taught me to be more of a “people person.” That’s because you need to be more active and talk more in policy discussions.
How do you see your career unfolding, after you’ve completed your studies?
Crenshaw: After I graduate next May, I hope to attend law school and study privacy issues. I want to find new ways for technology and the law to work together.
DiTullio: This internship really got me focused on policy issues; but at this point in my studies, I think I’m going to stick to the path of engineering and power.
Madary: Since I’ll be graduating very soon, I’ve begun the process of applying for a medical device fellowship program at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration here in Washington.
How are you spending your free time in Washington this summer?
Crenshaw: Since I already know the museums and monuments from being a tour guide, I researched upcoming events I wanted to attend at the major think tanks. Also, since I love coffee, I drank it at many of the local coffee shops. Then, I posted my reviews of each on Instagram.
DiTullio: With my roommates, I took two-hour walks almost daily around the city. I also visited all the museums and monuments, but I returned to the Library of Congress as often as possible. It’s been very cool to do work there because of all the history and art.
Madary: I did lots of exploring, especially of the monuments and museums. I also checked out many of the coffee shops; my favorite turned out to be just a block from IEEE-USA. This shop has a warm, inviting environment and a really good chocolate mocha.
Helen Horwitz is an award-winning freelance writer who lives in Albuquerque, N.M. She was with IEEE from 1991 through 2011, the first nine as Staff Director, IEEE Corporate Communications.