Serving as the 2011 IEEE-USA Congressional Fellow proved to be an unprecedented professional opportunity, and one of the most valuable events of my life. Working for Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) in the U.S. House of Representatives, I piloted the energy policy portfolio–consisting of policies for feed-in tariffs for renewable energy; investment tax credits for combined heat and power, and waste-to-energy systems; incentives for electric vehicles; and aggressive programs for biofuels for all means of transit, particularly for aviation applications.
My capstone experience was the opportunity to write from scratch, a bill which would create an undergraduate fellowship program for students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, with preference given to projects at the intersection of energy, environment and the economy (E3). After gaining the required constituent and industry support, the Rep. Inslee introduced the bill to the House of Representatives in December 2011. During 2011, I learned first-hand how Washington, D.C. operates, how to navigate the political web that is the nation’s capital, and how to network and connect with the right people. Most valuably, the fellowship prepared me for a public policy career in the federal government.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the umbrella organization overseeing more than 200 science and engineering fellowships city-wide, says that upon completing a fellowship in D.C., about one-third of fellows return to what they did beforehand; the second third are hired into the office in which they were a fellow; and the final third stay in D.C., but move on to something else in the city. Although my year on the Hill was invaluable, and I learned skills that are learnable nowhere else in the world, I was ready to move on to something else.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her intention to establish a Bureau of Energy Resources, as part of the U.S. Department of State’s first Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. When I heard of the formation of the new bureau, I knew I had to be part of it. It was in that same thought that I realized my easiest way into the new bureau was a path on which I already had a good deal of traction. That is, in addition to the congressional fellowship in which I was already partaking, IEEE-USA also runs a government fellowship at the U.S. Department of State. I was determined that this State Department Fellowship was my ticket in. And after a competitive application process, I was selected as a top candidate.
Although I was predisposed to work at the Bureau of Energy Resources, curiosity got the best of me and I decided to interview with additional offices at the Department of State and also at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where I could also seek placement. The interviews proved to be invaluable–over the course of a month, I met with more than 40 people working on energy-related issues across the institutions–such as in State’s Bureau of African Affairs, and in USAID’s Economic Growth and Trade program. The intensive interview process allowed me to establish a wide network of contacts before I even had the job, many of whom I would end up working with on future projects. I discovered a tremendous variety and uniqueness of people and projects around State and USAID, but I remained convinced that the Bureau of Energy Resources was the best fit for my professional career.
I landed in the Bureau’s Office of Electricity and Energy Efficiency, which has turned out to be a perfect match for an IEEE member and fellow. Since January, I have been piloting the energy efficiency and conservation initiatives of the U.S. Department of State. Although prior to the formation of the new Bureau, the State Department had already undertaken a great deal of energy-related work, the consolidated Bureau of Energy Resources allows the State Department to expand into areas not previously explored on a diplomatic level. Energy efficiency and conservation are two of those areas. Although I’ve never worked in a start-up company, I imagine that this is exactly what it would feel like to do so. Everyone is energetic, engaged, and has a vested interest in the success of the new bureau. For me, landing at the new bureau is a classic case of being in the right place at the right time. I foresee 2012 to be an incredible professionally-rewarding year.
Patrick E. Meyer, PH.D., is a 2012 IEEE-USA State Department Fellow, working in the Bureau of Energy Resources, Office of Electricity and Energy Efficiency. Meyer was also a 2011 Congressional Fellow, working in the office of Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.)