Three years ago, three graduate students co-founded an evidence-based policy fellowship program for doctoral STEM graduates in the State of Missouri. Mike Hendricks, Rachel Owen and Hallie Thompson created the Missouri Science and Technology (MOST) Policy Initiative to increase information sharing between scientists and policymakers by bringing them together to serve the people and communities in Missouri.
Due to the general assembly structure, growing science and technology industries, and trends in outward migration of locally trained professional scientists, Missouri has been a good fit to start a state STEM Policy Fellowship program.
Missouri has one of the largest general assemblies with 197 combined senators and representatives. “These potential relationships will be instrumental in training scientists on policy processes as well as inform legislators of potential uses of scientific research in building policy,” said Hendricks. The fellows can help to fill this gap and provide much needed support for elected officials and their legislative staff, particularly in bringing science and technology into the conversation.
In the capital city of Jefferson City, during the policy making process, fellows will learn how to communicate the research in a way legislators can understand. The fellows will also be a vital nonpartisan source of information since many of the lawmakers don’t have a scientific background, Hendricks said. According to Owen, less than 20% of legislators have any background in science, technology, engineering, math, or a related field, such as science education, so the fellows will be able to serve as science experts to the Missouri General Assembly.
The founders' vision for the impact of MOST Policy Fellows will foster meaningful connections between elected officials and the scientific community in Missouri, she said. By applying the model the founders created to other Midwestern state science policy groups, they will develop a program that can help scientists provide evidence-based research to their state legislatures.
“To be successful in this fellowship, it is important for fellows to build relationships with lawmakers since many of them don’t necessarily trust the scientist,” Owen said. “Fellows need to be genuine and recognize when they cannot be objective. They will benefit from keeping an open mind, resisting casting judgement and maintaining a resilient attitude in sharing science,” she said.
Fellows must hold a terminal degree of a Ph.D. or equivalent in science, technology, engineering, math, medicine, or related discipline in the STEMM educational field.