Despite the circumstances, we had a pretty fantastic year in 2020. We grew from one full-time staff member to seven full-time staff members and two part-time assistants. With this growth, we also increased our ability to connect science and policy across the state of Missouri and nationwide. Some highlights from 2020 include:
- the launch of the Missouri Local Science Engagement Network,
- hiring our inaugural class of 5 PhD-level science policy fellows,
- publishing 15 science notes at the request of Missouri lawmakers, and
- Officially becoming a charitable nonprofit organization (501c3).
We have an exciting year planned for 2021 – now that we are fully staffed, we expect to consistently testify for informational purposes during the regular legislative session to inform legislators of research related to pending legislation, work with state agencies to expand science-based decision-making, and grow the Missouri Local Science Engagement Network (LSEN).
Below, our team shares their goals for 2021 for the MOST Policy Fellows program and Missouri LSEN. We can’t wait to keep you up-to-date on our progress!
Local Science Engagement Network
Dan English, Program Coordinator: The primary function of the Missouri Local Science Engagement Network (LSEN) is to recruit and empower a network of scientists across the state of Missouri. Missouri LSEN members will act as science ambassadors to policymakers at the state and local levels. The LSEN has four priority areas including, climate change, environmental contaminants and pollution, health and food system disparities, and emerging infectious disease. The goals for the LSEN in the year 2021 reflect the dynamic nature of state and local politics, policies, and current research.
Short-term goals in the year 2021 will be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, decreasing the likelihood of in-person events. The short-term goals include completing a climate change communication training webinar, providing a legislative outlook for members, updating COVID-19 vaccine information, and partnering with organizations that share similar goals and values.
- The Missouri LSEN webinar, “Engaging Communities in Climate Science Conversations” started in late 2020, but continues in January 2021. The science communication training was generously provided by our partners at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in a three-part workshop. Realized goals for this webinar include enrolling more than 30 new members to the LSEN, introducing new LSEN members to the Quorum (https://missourilsen.quorum.us) engagement platform, and promoting their engagement with local and state policymakers through the platform.
- The Missouri LSEN is planning a legislative outlook to explain the Missouri legislative process on January 11th. Missouri Science and Technology (MOST) Policy Fellows are tracking bills filed in the Missouri Legislature and will present the information in a virtual webinar. Fellows will include the scientific background on each bill and explain how LSEN members can engage with policymakers to offer scientific expertise on these bills. Goals for this webinar include having a minimum of 40 LSEN members participate, expanding the network by 15 scientists/researchers in STEM fields, and making sure all of our new and old LSEN members sign up through our Quorum (https://missourilsen.quorum.us) engagement platform. Following the legislative outlook, the goal for each member will be to contact a House or Senate member with an introductory phone call or email.
- The LSEN is partnering with Black Girls Do STEM (BGDSTEM) for a COVID-19 related event. In this event, a diverse group of health researchers will provide information live streaming on Facebook LIVE. The target audience for this even includes BGDSTEM membership, LSEN membership, Missouri state and local policymakers, and interested members of the public. Partnering with BGDSTEM will allow the LSEN to recruit a more diverse group of scientists and researchers to engage with policymakers. Participants in this event will learn about the development of mRNA vaccines and their safety protocols. Themes for this event include vaccine safety and vaccine equity in marginalized communities. The goals for this event are to increase awareness of BGDSTEM and LSEN among scientists, researchers, and policymakers in Missouri. The LSEN has a goal of enrolling 10 new members during this event.
In 2021 we also hope to grow our partnerships with organizations sharing our mission and values. Two newly proposed partnerships include the Research-to-Policy Initiative (R2P) and The Climate Coalition of Greater Kansas City. R2P is a national organization of scientists and researchers engaging with Federal legislators in science policy issues with a similar mission to the LSEN. The Climate Coalition of Greater Kansas City is a group of scientists, researchers, and concerned citizens advocating for climate solutions in Kansas and Missouri. Climate Coalition organizers host weekly radio shows in the Kansas City area focusing on state and local level policy and opportunities related to climate change.
Being an honest broker of scientific information is a critical component of the Missouri LSEN values. The goals for 2021 are to identify LSEN members at the forefront of their scientific disciplines to act as subject matter experts in various STEM fields and for them to serve as honest brokers of scientific information. Subject matter experts will work with MOST Policy Fellows, reviewing and writing science notes for Missouri policymakers and local officials. A soft goal for reviewing and writing science notes will be that LSEN members write or 50% of the organization’s output of science notes by the end of the year.
It’s essential to provide value beyond the opportunity to engage in policy discussions for STEM experts. To fill this gap, the LSEN will work to provide networking opportunities for researchers and scientists to engage with others from universities from across Missouri. New networking opportunities will also act as an important recruiting tool for LSEN. COVID-19 is impacting events all over the country, as a result; a soft goal is to sponsor a networking event every six weeks beginning in late Spring 2021.
To provide more value for members of LSEN, we will engage in professional development opportunities. Professional development opportunities include training exercises related to science communication, science education, and other opportunities for members. We are finishing up a science communication workshop right now and we hope to identify more opportunities for professional development in the future.
MOST Policy Fellows Program
Eleni Bickell, MOST Policy Fellow: There are so many reasons to be excited for 2021!
This year, I will be able to write legislative science notes for MOST. Science notes will help legislators, their staff, agencies, and other stakeholders to consider what the research and data shows on topics that affect all of us. I will also be able to testify at different Committee Hearings on legislative issues that I truly care about. While science notes are evidence-based briefs and are reflective of all the things that we know and don’t know about a topic, being able to testify in a clear, concise and brief manner, will help me deliver the science-sound information to as many decision makers as possible. As the Agriculture, Natural Resources and Economic Development fellow at MOST, during the 101 Missouri General Assembly, I will be actively involved at the Missouri House Committees of Agriculture Policy, Conservation and Natural Resources, Special Committee on Tourism, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, the Subcommittee on Appropriations – Agriculture, Conservation, Natural Resources, and Economic Development, and the Agriculture, Food Production, and Outdoor Resources at the Missouri Senate.
During 2021, I am also excited to see my Fellowship Project progress with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Division of Energy. My Missouri Biofuel Supply Chain Opportunities Project will consider the key characteristics of the biofuel supply chain in the state of Missouri, including feedstock production, biomass logistics and biofuel production and distribution. Given the challenges that we all faced in 2020 due to COVID-19, one of the goals that I will work very hard on will be to engage with policy makers and staff and other decision-makers to integrate science into long-lasting collaborations. Finally, as part of MOST, I will help improve the reach and impact of MOST science policy efforts and to work towards disseminating our work to those who can make a difference.
Brittany Whitley, MOST Policy Fellow: My overarching goal for 2021 is to bolster the reputation of the MOST Policy Initiative as a trusted and reliable resource for connecting research with policy in Missouri. We’ve spent the fall building relationships with legislators, stakeholders and researchers across the state and I look forward to leveraging these partnerships to inform policy discussions in a way that will benefit all Missourians. I aim to be an honest broker of scientific information by contributing Science Notes and informational testimony to legislative discussions about education and the workforce. I’m also very excited to organize a SciTech briefing on College Access and Completion for Historically Underserved Students. In all the work I do, I plan to be intentional about centering research in a way that is accessible to everyone in Missouri. While COVID-19 will continue to affect what meetings and events look like in the new year, I remain committed to finding creative ways to stay engaged with my community and achieve these goals.
Josh Mueller, MOST Policy Fellow: I am looking forward to an exciting legislative session in 2021, and a year of growth for MOST and myself. First, I’d like to provide informational testimony at committee hearings on legislative topics that I’ve covered in Science Notes for MOST. There are a wide variety of topics on the health/mental health legislative agenda this year, including Medicaid expansion, programs to monitor and curb opioid abuse, and a slate of bills relating to infectious disease, so I really hope to be able to share research in these areas with policymakers to help inform their decisions. I am also looking forward to organizing a virtual conference on state-level science policy with Dr. Jill Barnas, the Children, Families, & Seniors Policy Fellow at MOST. Finally, I’d like to work with the MO Department of Health and Senior Services and Department of Mental Health to help develop more effective strategies for responding to behavioral crises. Mental health issues can be exacerbated by unstable economic conditions, social isolation, and substance abuse, so I think it will be especially important to prioritize mental health care as the state begins to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic in the upcoming year.
Jenny Bratburd, MOST Policy Fellow: As we enter 2021, science-based policy continues to be incredibly important. My primary goal will be serving the needs of the Missouri legislature in the upcoming session by providing information on energy, environment, transportation and public safety issues. One of the silver linings of 2020 has been the ability to connect with people virtually, so I plan to continue to expand my learning as well as to engage the public via MOST’s public briefings, our office hours on Facebook live and our podcast (more details to be announced!). I am also excited to work with members of the Missouri Local Science Engagement network to connect scientists and policymakers, especially in the realm of climate change and energy.
Jill Barnas, MOST Policy Fellow: Even though there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding 2021, I am excited to accomplish goals, work on a variety of projects, and be a part of professional events in the new year. First, I want to put my skills into practice and testify in a committee hearing for informational purposes during the legislative session. An additional professional development goal is to obtain a science policy / communication certification and am looking forward to participating in the FASEB Science Policy and Communication Certification Course in 2021. I would also like to submit a paper for publication in a science policy journal. My last goal is to continue fostering new networks, connections, and maintain the ones already established.
Some projects and events I am looking forward to in 2021 is our Science Policy Workshop for graduate students and post-docs; we were awarded a microgrant from Research!America to develop a workshop and introduce graduate students to this rewarding career path. Secondly, I am beginning my fellowship project with the Department of Senior and Disability Services and Home and Community Based Services analyzing assistive technologies. I am excited about the potential impact the project can have on some of our most vulnerable Missourians.
Working with MOST Policy initiative has been such a wonderful opportunity and I cannot wait to see how we continue to grow in 2021!