Published: Aug. 30, 2021 By

Six students from CU Boulder got a peek at the policymaking process this summer as participants in the Colorado Science and Engineering Policy Fellowship program.

Rachel Bowyer, Christine Chang, Ryan Gomez, Briar Goldwyn, Carolyn Goodwin and Tehya Stockman joined a dozen STEM students from other Colorado colleges and universities for the selective program.

Students in hard hats with heavy equipment
Students visit mining operations in Craig, Colorado. Photo submitted.

The fellowship was cofounded in 2018 by state Sens. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, and Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, who found common ground as policymakers with backgrounds in engineering. The program gives real-world experience to undergraduate and graduate students in STEM with the goal of increasing representation of scientists and engineers in government.

“We are working to create a new generation of science policy leaders who will change the course of our world for the better,” Hansen said.

Over the course of the program, participants received a crash course in state government. They heard regularly from speakers across government, industry, academic and nonprofit fields and rubbed elbows with Gov. Jared Polis and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse.

They visited several locations, including a coal mine and coal-fired power plant in Craig where they spoke with locals about how the transition to renewable energy is affecting their lives and community. They toured Lockheed Martin in Littleton and visited a data center in Lakewood, as well as a stop at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Each student also prepared a policy proposal on an individual topic ranging from behavioral health crisis response to wildfire suppression to the use of AI and facial recognition. They conducted research, met with stakeholders and spoke to politicians about the complex needs. 

“I learned a lot about the different opportunities out there for STEM students to help ensure our state policies are informed by science and engineering,” said Goldwyn, a fourth-year PhD student in civil engineering. “I will definitely be following the next legislative session closely, especially as I wait to see which of our policy ideas actually turn into bills.”

Stockman, a PhD student in environmental engineering, said she enjoyed seeing how senators and representatives interacted with and gathered input from constituents. She said she was pleasantly surprised to witness numerous examples of highly functional governance and bipartisan cooperation.

“A lot of bills get passed because they are good policy, and a lot of legislators work to find common ground,” she said.

For the legislators, the program provides a glimpse into a promising future being developed by STEM graduates across the state.

“Over the course of my career in private industry and government the need for more engagement from the scientific community in public policy has become more and more evident,” Rankin said. “Working with the next generation of STEM students is a vital pursuit in the creation of a more sustainable future.”

Reflections from participants

Rachel Bowyer | Twin Falls, Idaho

PhD student, Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences

  • “It was interesting to learn about the role that data and evidence plays in decision-making in policy. Every year, the state legislature has to budget out billions of dollars of funds, and each group wants a piece of the pie. Who gets funding should be based on need, equity and effectiveness – however, there is often a lack of measurement for how effective different programs actually are. Learning about this need for more evidence and measurement made me realize that there is a great need for scientifically literate people to work in government and advocacy.”

Christine Chang | Voorhees, New Jersey

PhD student, Computer Science

  • “This program most definitely has influenced the perspectives I have about my potential career opportunities. I now have much more knowledge about what different kinds of careers in science and technology policy could look like and what my entry points could be. Other key takeaways include the realities of policymaking, the accessibility of legislators and other state employees and the wide range of issues that are best addressed at a state level."

Students at solar farm in Longmont
A subset of the group toured a solar farm in Longmont. From left, Rachel Bowyer, Briar Goldwyn, Levi Grenier (Colorado School of Mines), Ryan Gomez, Carolyn Goodwin, Vanessa Dunlap (Metro State University) and Anna Evans (Colorado School of Mines).

Carolyn Goodwin | Lakewood, Colorado

Mechanical Engineering (Western Colorado University Partnership Program)

  • “I have always been interested in public service and public policy -- especially as an engineer, which you don’t see much of in politics. I learned that STEM and statistics have a huge place in public policy that is always getting bigger.”

Ryan Gomez | San Dimas, California

Environmental Engineering

  • “This fellowship gave me an unforgettable experience in the world of state policymaking, and it also opened my eyes to the career possibilities that I can pursue within local and state government. I learned that there are several positions that fall in the cross-section of engineering and government that I believe I will pursue upon graduation.”

Briar Goldwyn | Camarillo, California

PhD student, Civil Engineering

  • “I applied for this fellowship for the same reason I first chose to study civil engineering: to work at the intersection of people and the built environment to ensure more equitable access to infrastructure. Through my coursework and research experience, I have grown to understand that policy is the most powerful mechanism through which I can support the communities that have been historically left out of public infrastructure investments.”

Tehya Stockman | Michigan

PhD student, Environmental Engineering

  • “I really enjoyed going to a stakeholder meeting with a couple senators and fire chiefs around Colorado. I learned a ton in the discussion, and it was great seeing how senators and representatives interact and get input from their constituents. I enjoyed seeing politics working well, where people across the aisle can find common ground and get along and pass bills together."