Pictured (l to r): IEEE-USA’s 2018 WISE interns Zeyi Lin, Alex Meier, and Raine Sagramsingh.
“Meeting with all five members of the Nebraska congressional delegation was an amazing experience, something I never thought I’d get to do. During my 15-minute sit-down discussion with Adrian Smith, my Congressman, at the weekly Nebraska Breakfast, he was super interested in what I’m doing.”
This meeting is how Alex Meier, of Juniata, Nebraska, and one of the three IEEE students who participated in the 2018 Washington Internships for Students of Engineering (WISE), describes one of his favorite memories of this recent experience.
In 2018, IEEE-USA, IEEE Technical Activities and the IEEE Life Members Committee sponsored three WISE interns for the nine-week summer program in Washington, D.C.
Meier expects to graduate this coming December from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he’s an electrical engineering major, with an emphasis on power and energy systems. The other IEEE interns were Zeyi Lin, who graduated this spring from the University of Texas at Austin, with dual degrees in electrical and computer engineering and government; and Raine Sagramsingh, who graduated this spring from Florida State University, in Tallahassee, with a degree in mechanical engineering.
Since WISE began in 1980, the program has provided hundreds of the brightest engineering students from throughout the United States with experiences that show how engineers can contribute to important issues involving science, technology and public policy. Each year, the seven engineering societies that sponsor WISE, IEEE among them, ensure that the students get first-hand knowledge about how government officials make decisions on complex technological issues. At the same time, the students discover how engineers and scientists can contribute to the legislative process and regulatory decision-making.
Each intern also researches, writes and presents a paper on a public policy issue of particular interest to the sponsoring society. This facet of the program provides the students with further insights about how engineers can contribute to legislative and regulatory public policy decisions.
The three, IEEE-sponsored students recently shared their thoughts about their WISE internships, their aspirations and themselves.
Where are you from? What do you like best about you hometown?
Lin: My hometown is Austin, a city that has a vibrant culture. It has many good things to explore. The Greenbelt, with its miles of trails; plus plenty of music festivals, and a great research university, are just a few of them. Austin also has a sense of quirkiness that I like.
Meier: I am from Juniata, a suburb of Lincoln. To me, it is the perfect size, with all the amenities and a strong community feeling. Our town is super friendly, and you don’t have to lock your door at night.
Sagramsingh: I was born in Barbados, but my family moved to the United States when I was seven. We live in Bradenton, Florida. When I’m home, I like to go to the beach–but I’m careful to go only every other day, and not to spend too much time in the sun.
Why did you apply for a WISE internship? How do you expect to benefit from it?
Lin: I did a policy internship in 2015, during the Obama administration. I wanted to be back in the policy environment, to use skills I had learned during my academic experience, as well as learn from seasoned policy professionals. I’ve met and learned a lot from these people. In addition, the political environment was different the last time I was here. I wanted to see the intersection of science and policy in another administration.
Meier: I’m interested in history and political science. When I saw the email announcing the 2018 WISE internships, I thought it would be a super-neat opportunity to visit Washington, meet people, and build a network. Other engineering internships are available, but you can’t make the same connections, or get the same opportunities that you can with WISE.
Sagramsingh: I’ve always thought more technical people should be involved with policy, because having subject matter experts can only improve the process. Having met such experts, as well as people who work mainly on policy, has taught me a lot about process. I found out what it’s like to be on the Hill, and the fast pace at which regulations and policy happen.
What is the topic of your paper and presentation?
Lin: My topic is the debate over encrypted communications; it also covers encrypted devices that could assist law enforcement to conduct investigations. With continuing advances in technology, law enforcement is having more difficulty unlocking devices, and wants designers to help them. But advocates on the privacy and civil liberties side say such tactics introduce vulnerabilities, as well as posing cost and complexity issues. I’ll be weighing the equities between the various stakeholders: commercial interests, the technology industry, government, law enforcement, security researchers and privacy/civil liberties advocates.
Meier: I have been researching and analyzing the future role utilities will play with distributed power generation. Nebraska is an all public-power utility state, one of its unique aspects. Going forward, distributed power generation is going to be a big thing. I’ve already interned with a public utility in Lincoln.
Sagramsingh: My topic is artificial intelligence and Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, or LAWS; and how to assist policymakers in the conversation. The problem is the lack of understanding of the terminology, as well as the technology itself. Depending on the terms used, opinions are, literally, all over the place.
What have you learned from your WISE internship?
Lin: I have learned how important it is to develop and maintain relationships. It is easy to be caught in the many big-picture issues in one camp or another. A WISE alumnus told me that when facing a tough policy issue, you should attack the problem–not the people. It becomes difficult to make progress, if both sides alienate each other.
Meier: For me, learning the role engineers play in helping to shape public policy has been a revelation. Now, I know a lot more about it.
Sagramsingh: Networking is such an important aspect of working in Washington, and I have learned a lot about interacting with people. The connections you make are vital. You need to build a network of people you can talk with to help to address the problem you are tackling.
How do you see you career unfolding?
Lin: When I complete my WISE internship, I will be returning to Texas, and preparing to move to Dallas. I’ve accepted a job there with Bain & Company, the management consulting firm.
Meier: I think I would eventually like to come back to Washington, and work in public policy. But after I graduate this December, I’ll be working in the transmission distribution group of Burns & McDonnell, in Kansas City.
Sagramsingh: I will be moving soon to California, to work in flight-testing at Edwards Air Force Base. I would like to work in public policy in the future; and I think I will be back in Washington one day. But first, I want to gain experiences; and then bring them back to share with others.
How have you been spending your free time this summer?
Lin: I have made it to the Smithsonian museums, and have gone with visiting friends to D.C. comedy clubs. Also, I’ve tried to get to know the other 11 WISE interns. It’s great to meet other STEM majors interested in tackling problems through the lens of engineering.
Meier: When I arrived in June, I did all the tourist stuff with my family. So, I’ve hung out a lot with the other interns. We attended the congressional baseball game and the parade for the Capitals, after they won the Stanley Cup. I’ve also been trying out the ethnic restaurants here. I want to try Peruvian food before we leave. The Ethiopian restaurant was good, but we have a better one in Lincoln.
Sagramsingh: Our George Washington University dorms are close to the National Mall, and while I do not like running, the incredible view has improved it. Plus, everywhere you turn, there’s a festival or free event happening. All the WISE interns attended the dress rehearsal of the Fourth of July concert, and we had a barbecue and then watched the fireworks from the Tidal Basin. IEEE provided me with a great opportunity, plus the IEEE-USA staff support and resources. I feel very lucky to have been here.
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.