IEEE-USA has sponsored three “WISE guys” this summer, which translates to Washington Internship for Students of Engineering interns. The program's goal is to groom future leaders of the engineering profession in the United States to increase awareness of, and contributions to, the important intersection of science, technology and public policy. The students spend nine weeks in the summer in Washington, D.C., learning how government officials make decisions on complex technological issues, and how engineers can contribute to legislative and regulatory public policy decisions.
Ross Beppler, electrical engineering major at Clemson University; Abhishek Dharan, electrical engineering major at Barrett (honors college at Arizona State University); and Kevin McDonald, electrical engineering and political science major at Columbia University, started their internships in June. At the start of the summer, they shared some thoughts with IEEE-USA in ACTION about themselves and their WISE internships:
Where are you from? And what do you like best about your home town?
Beppler: I’m from Johns Creek, Georgia. My favorite part is the diversity. It is a multicultural area, which I find stimulating--with the resources and opportunities of a big city. But I live in the suburbs, so I have places to get away from the hustle and bustle.
Dharan: I’m from Chandler, Arizona. My favorite part is the great weather from September to March. I take advantage of those months playing outdoor sports like Frisbee and Tennis.
McDonald: I live in Havertown, Pa. It is a relatively small town, where everybody knows everybody else. So no matter where you go, you usually end up running into a friend.
What is the biggest shock you had when you got to D.C.?
Dharan: The prevalence of public transportation in D.C. has been awesome. To do simple tasks in Arizona (e.g., buying groceries), it is (almost) essential to have a car. However, in D.C., everything is either a short walk away, or accessible via the metro and bus routes.
McDonald: I thought I knew what to expect when it comes to living in a city, but I was pleasantly surprised at how clean D.C., is and how much open space there is.
Beppler: The way people here drive. Living near Atlanta, I thought I would be prepared for the traffic, but in D.C., it’s a whole different level. People here invent their own traffic laws, and are very liberal with the use of their horns.
Why did you apply for the WISE internship?
McDonald: One of my EE professors recommended the WISE program, and I could not have asked for a more perfect opportunity to combine my two academic passions.
Beppler: I applied for the WISE internship to expose myself to a different application for my engineering degree. I enjoy my coursework, and I feel passionately about renewable energy, but I also want to take advantage of my love of writing and debate. I saw it as an opportunity for diversification and career exploration.
Dharan: The opportunity to blend my technical experiences with public policy in Washington D.C. was an opportunity I could not pass up. The promise of having great mentors in my technical field was especially enticing, as I would have a great learning experience, and could rely on an already established program for assistance.
What are you working on during your internship? And what do you think about it?
Beppler: During my internship I am focusing on wind energy, and how we can best take advantage of this resource. I am analyzing incentives like the Production Tax Credit, but also considering the infrastructure upgrades necessary to take a variable, remote resource and incorporate it on the grid. Deciding how best to promote wind energy, and who should pay for the necessary additions to the transmission network, should keep me busy in this budget climate.
Dharan: For my internship, I am looking at how the cost of healthcare can be lowered with expanding broadband access, by utilizing telemedicine technologies. I think this is a great topic, because there are so many benefits associated with it from many different angles. It provides real healthcare cost savings, improves our infrastructure, and promotes greater healthcare access.
McDonald: This summer, I’m writing a policy position paper on network neutrality. The Internet has become integral to the way our society functions, and I think it is essential that it remains open and robust. This research paper is an opportunity to study how to accomplish this ambitious goal in a realistic way.
What do you hope to learn from the internship?
Dharan: From this internship, I hope to learn how scientists and engineers interact with government to forge informed public policy on STEM issues.
McDonald: From an outside perspective, it’s easy to think that there isn’t anyone with STEM-related expertise in the policymaking process. This can be frustrating, especially when it comes to legislation or other policy proposals that you disagree with, based on your technological education. I’ve repeatedly heard from many of my peers that “we need more engineers in government,” but not many of them actually want to get involved. I didn’t want to sit on the sidelines, so I hoped to learn how to use my engineering background and technological literacy to influence public policy in a positive way.
Beppler: I am hoping to learn more about the public policy process, and discover what obstacles need to be overcome to make renewable sources greater contributors in our energy portfolio.
Given that you are a few weeks into the internship, what do you think you will learn?
McDonald: First and foremost, I think that I will learn how to make a comprehensive policy recommendation. However, I quickly realized that my organization is one of many vying for influence in a complicated process, so I think that it will also be necessary to learn how to make the most of your position so that your voice is heard.
Dharan: A few weeks into this internship, it is clear that I will learn what I initially had hoped to learn. It is also evident that I will learn much more on how to develop professional relationships, and synthesize complex information into concise messages.
Beppler: I am already discovering the importance of networking, and this internship has been a great resource from that point of view. I am also finding out that nothing in policymaking is cut and dry. There are a lot of competing interests, and different points of view--and sifting through all the information can be a struggle. There may not be a right answer, so picking the best solution is tough--particularly because there are no answers in the back of the book…
Nita Patel is IEEE-USA’s volunteer vice president of Communications and Public Awareness