A day on Capitol Hill

What is it like to spend a day on Capitol Hill persuading U.S. Senators to continue funding science education?
Kelly Kranjc

Kelly Kranjc, a doctoral student in the Institute of Materials Science & Engineering, got to experience “life on the Hill” April 7-8 through Congressional Visits Day, sponsored by Material Advantage, an national organization for students in materials science.

Kranjc represented Washington University and met with staff in the offices of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) about federal funding for science and engineering as well as science education.

“Since we are their constituents, we can let them know we are productive members of society and benefit greatly from science funding, so they should keep it up now that budgets are being made,” Kranjc says.

Kranjc, an Ohio native who works in the lab of Katharine Flores, works on projects funded by the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

“I told the staff that without that funding, I wouldn’t be a graduate student,” she says. “Without graduate students, America wouldn’t have that competitive edge that we really need right now.”
Kranjc met individually with McCaskill’s staff, with students from Missouri University of Science & Technology with Blunt’s staff, and with students from other Ohio universities with Brown’s staff. Kranjc also got a personal tour of the Capitol from a member of Blunt’s staff.

“This was a great opportunity for Kelly,” Flores says. “Particularly in this time of declining federal funding, it’s vital that our science and engineering students learn how to communicate the importance of their research in such a way that lawmakers and the general public can understand the return it is getting for its investment.”

Kranjc says she enjoyed meeting other students interested in science policy as well as the Congressional staff responsible for science education and funding. She is interested in doing a Congressional fellowship in science policy when she completes her doctorate.

“There are scientists everywhere, and everyone needs funding,” she says. “I benefited so much from science education. I had a great chemistry teacher, and that’s who got me interested in this area. If kids don’t have that, we’re not going to have the scientists and engineers we need.”

In addition to making the visits with Congressional staff, Kranjc and the other 31 students met with representatives from the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Council on Competitiveness, and the MRS/TMS Congressional Science and Engineering Fellow. They also got to meet with the local chapter of ASM International, a materials science and engineering society.

Kranjc says she plans to apply to participate in Congressional Visits Day again next year.

The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 82 tenured/tenure-track and 40 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, 700 graduate students and more than 23,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.