An Engineer Goes to Capitol Hill: The Role of Science and Engineering in Policy and Politics

Ursula Rick Th’03, Regulatory Affairs Analyst, Western Energy Alliance

Friday, May 24, 2013, 3:30pm

Spanos Auditorium

This seminar is part of the Jones Seminars on Science, Technology, and Society series.

Does it ever seem like the policies coming out of Washington, DC could have used the help of a scientist or engineer? Have you ever wondered whether your research could be useful to our elected officials? Technical knowledge is used in a variety of ways throughout the government, whether to inform policymaking, to promulgate regulations, or to win political battles. Scientists and engineers who want to work at the intersection of science and policy must not only have technical skills but must also be adept at building relationships with people and interweaving their expertise with that of various stakeholders, whether they be lawyers, political scientists, elected officials, or the general public. During her year as a Congressional Science Fellow in the US Senate, Dr. Rick worked to bring technical knowledge into the policymaking process, and at the same time, learned how technical expertise fits into the workings of Capitol Hill. Technical experts are often viewed as having privileged information that carries more weight than other information, but at other times, they are treated as simply another interest group. Scientists and engineers have an important role in making sure relevant, technical knowledge is properly used in the policymaking process. Dr. Rick will share her thoughts on how that can be done and her experience moving from academia to the office of a US Senator.

About the Speaker

Ursula Rick has spent most of her career pursuing problems at the interface of science, policy, and politics. She studied the polar ice sheets and their behavior with climate change during graduate school, and this led to her interest in the relationship between science and politics as arguments about climate policy heated up. In her current position as a regulatory analyst, Ursula works with industry and academic scientists to improve regulation of the oil and gas industry. Prior to that, she worked on energy and natural resource policy for Senator Mark Udall (CO) in Washington, DC. During her post doc, she published on the role of the media in reporting sea level rise, the impetus for which came from her Ph.D. research on melt from the Greenland Ice Sheet. Ursula has a Ph.D. in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences from the University of Colorado, an M.S. in Engineering Sciences from Thayer School of Engineering, and a B.S. in Material Science and Metallurgical Engineering from Michigan Technological University.