Although known to students of technology policy, the Washington Internships for Students of Engineering (WISE) program is a well-kept secret for many U.S. IEEE members. WISE was founded in 1980 through the collaborative efforts of several engineering societies as a program to introduce engineering students of all disciplines to the important intersection of technology with policy, and to the public policymaking process. WISE has become a premier Washington internship program, ranked among the Top 100 Internship programs in the United States by the Princeton Review.
IEEE-USA, IEEE Technical Activities, and the IEEE Life Members Committee together sponsor three IEEE student members from the United States to participate in the WISE program each summer. As part of their experience, WISE Interns prepare and defend a paper on a technology public policy topic of interest, and interact with legislators and federal government officials to learn how they make decisions on complex technological issues, and how engineers and scientists can contribute to the legislative process and regulatory decision-making.
Former IEEE-USA Intern Jon Horek described the WISE experience as follows: “I got to see exactly how Congress takes information from people, from interest groups, as well as from government agencies and then uses that in legislation. I also got to meet a lot of people and make a lot of contacts. I learned that science is not independent and has an important role in how public policy is shaped. Learning how we can influence the state of our nation as engineers has really given me the drive to excel.”
WISE Interns have also been able to put that experience to use in many ways. It often informs their careers as engineers and in business. Others catch the public policy bug and put their technical knowledge and public policy interest to work for government and non-governmental organizations. IEEE WISE alumni David Pietrocola reports: “From energy sustainability to self-driving cars, the technical innovation is often only a piece of the puzzle to making things happen in the world. Luckily, I had the opportunity to put that into practice working at the National Science Foundation and in the Intelligence Community. As an entrepreneur now, I can thank WISE and IEEE-USA for making me smarter about policy, standards, international affairs, and political implications when considering new products and businesses.”
Long-time WISE mentor and former IEEE-USA Congressional Fellow Tom Fagan reports: “After total immersion in the program, they quickly see the value of an engineer’s perspective in shaping public policy in a congressional community where only two percent of Congress has any type of technical background.”
Former IEEE President Gordon Day adds: “I first met a class of WISE interns in 2005, when I had the opportunity to work in a Senate office, and I attended a briefing where they presented their work. I was thoroughly impressed with what they had learned and accomplished over just ten weeks. Later, one of the joys of visiting the IEEE-USA office in the summer was meeting with some of the interns, as they explored their issues. It’s a really impressive program and, for some interns, life changing. I contribute to it annually, and encourage others to do so, as well.”
As part of the program, WISE also retains an engineering professor with public policy interests to serve as Faculty-Member-in-Residence (FMR). IEEE member and former WISE FMR Ken Lutz recalls that his role was to provide the WISE Interns with “a working knowledge of federal government processes, including legislative and regulatory processes and an understanding of how science and technology policy decisions are made and implemented. To do this, the FMR sets up meetings with people in the D.C. public policy community, relying on those members of the sponsoring societies to help set up such meetings, with both government and non-government people who make and influence public policy. The FMR also advises the interns as they prepare policy papers and presentations, instructing the students on the basics of good policy research, analysis, writing, and presenting.”
IEEE undergraduate student members (and graduate student members enrolled in public policy degree programs) from the United States interested in participating in WISE next summer can get more information on the program and how to apply on the WISE website or by contacting Kayla Henneberry at firstname.lastname@example.org. IEEE members interested in being considered for the Faculty-Member-in-Residence appointment will also find information on the WISE site.
IEEE members can contribute directly to the WISE program and ensure that IEEE-USA and its partners can continue to provide this life-changing experience to U.S. IEEE student members. The first $10,000 of gifts to the IEEE-USA Student Public Policy Fund of the IEEE Foundation will be matched thanks to the generosity of donors to IEEE-USA. Through your support, IEEE-USA hopes to put its support for the WISE program on a sound financial footing for the future and to expand opportunities for more IEEE student members to participate.
You can learn more about the WISE program and show your support through a generous donation to the IEEE-USA Student Public Policy Fund at https://ieeeusa.org/advocacy/wise/.
As the philanthropic partner of IEEE, the IEEE Foundation inspires an engaged community and leverages the generosity of donors to enable IEEE programs that enhance technology access, literacy, and education and supports the IEEE professional community.