NSPN Says Hello to New Opportunities with Director Transition

Sep 14, 2020

NSPN recently said goodbye to one Director, transitioned one Director to a new position, and welcomed a new Director onboard. During this pivotal transition in our network, we caught up with these three leaders to learn more about their work and their vision for NSPN’s future.

 

Avital Percher (outgoing Director of Partnerships):

Avital at the 2nd Annual National Science Policy Symposium running the Policy Memo Writing workshop with the Journal of Science Policy & Governance.

What got you interested in science policy initially? What other science policy initiatives or work have you been involved in outside of NSPN?

My first exposure to science policy was through a science diplomacy class taught at my university. It was the first time the activities of scientific research were put in context to global affairs and it got me hooked. I eventually started thinking about science policy in a broader context – what is the intersection between science, policy, and advocacy? I started exploring this concept through a podcast (Science Soapbox), and gradually became more involved in the grassroots community. Beyond NSPN, I have just completed my AAAS Fellowship at the National Science Foundation, and look forward to starting a career in the field.

What are you most proud of during your tenure?

As a cofounder it has been a great privilege to help build NSPN to where it is today, and I suspect I will have few other life accomplishments reaching this level. In particular, I am proud to have helped initiate programs that demonstrate the extent to which NSPN’s members can engage with their communities. Whether by elevating policy-focused conversations, or engaging in advocacy and educational activities, I am excited to have contributed to what I am sure are the first steps of our community becoming active voices and leaders of concrete actions.

Why are you specifically excited about the work NSPN is doing and what role do you envision for our network in science and society in the future?

Building upon my previous comments on first steps towards community leadership, I am specifically excited by the potential NSPN has to be a leading generator of new ideas at all levels. By necessity the scientific and policy communities discuss concepts that build upon national level viewpoints, combining data to have a holistic understanding of the landscape. How will these ideas translate back? How can smaller-scale programs, showing promise, be broadened? There is an immense amount of potential, and I can’t wait to see what our members do in the future.

What do you enjoy doing with your time outside of NSPN?

When not running from one policy-oriented project to another, I try to make time for reading science fiction books, playing board games, and blues dancing.

 

Holly Mayton (outgoing Director of Membership; incoming Director of Partnerships):

Holly presenting her work on the Salton Sea Sense project at her second AAAS Annual Meeting in 2016 in Washington, D.C.

What got you interested in science policy initially? What other science policy initiatives or work have you been involved in outside of NSPN?

I started my environmental engineering graduate program as an NSF IGERT Fellow (which has since been phased out), which means I worked on collaborative projects with other PhD students from across campus in psychology, economics, soil science, and so on. We decided to focus on an environmental and public health issue a few hours south of us - the rapidly evaporating Salton Sea. We created a blog called Salton Sea Sense that focused on summarizing and sharing scientific information that was publicly accessible to combat all of the myths and misinformation that we were seeing in the news about the Salton Sea.

Ultimately, I found that I wanted to have an impact on the decisions being made based on (or not based on) the science we were sharing. I discovered the world of science policy at a AAAS Annual Meeting in 2015, and ended up joining several California State Committees on “Long Range Planning” and “Public Outreach” for the Salton Sea where I was able to work with legislators, community leaders, tribal representatives, and more to advance our shared goals of protecting the largest lake in California!

What are you most excited about working on moving forward?

I am most excited to be stepping into this role at a time when I support both new and existing strategic partnerships that will benefit our members and advance causes that align with NSPN’s mission: for example, building collaborative programs with societies that support professional development for minorities in STEM, like SACNAS, SHPE, NSBE, and more. I’m also excited to amplify new programs like the SciPol Scholars-in-Residence and Mentorship Network, which rely in part on partner organizations that are committed to supporting early career scientists and engineers in policy. Beyond these new opportunities, I’m excited to continue to build on the groundwork that has been laid for strong partnerships with the Journal of Science Policy & Governance, Science Debate, Union of Concerned Scientists, and others.

Why are you specifically excited about the work NSPN is doing and what role do you envision for our network in science and society in the future?

NSPN is filling a unique gap in the space between young people with scientific and technical expertise and public policy. Because of this, we have seen a really organic interest from our members. The value of ensuring that early career scientists and engineers have the skills and opportunities to engage with lawyers, economists, politicians, and their local community members is more apparent than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have seen our members and Chapters rise to the occasion. As our network continues to grow, I hope we can continue to reach deeper into both the scientific and political enterprises to build trust and personal relationships between future science policy leaders and decision-makers from the local to international levels.

What do you enjoy doing with your time outside of NSPN?

Tending to my garden, taking long walks with my dog Rita, getting creative with leftovers in my kitchen, and binge-watching Madam Secretary to prepare for my AAAS STPF in the State Department this fall!

 

Amanda Acosta-Ruiz (incoming Director of Membership):

Amanda (left) with Bernat Navarro (middle), and Sarah Ackerman (right), representing the Eastern Hub in Seattle at the 2020 AAAS Annual Meeting. 

What got you interested in science policy initially? What other science policy initiatives or work have you been involved in outside of NSPN?

My interest in science policy came from a recognition of the passions I wanted to ensure were part of my lifelong goals. I have been passionate about science since my high school science fair days (huge shout out to my 10th grade bio teacher who made learning go beyond the textbook!), but it wasn’t until I stumbled into student government in college that I started to realize how much I wanted to be involved in something that impacted society. Stemming from these realizations, my brain combined the idea of science and government and I started to ferociously google “science policy” as I was wrapping up my college experience and applied to graduate school.

Once I was in graduate school, I had the good fortune of getting very involved with the science policy group on campus, the Science & Education Policy Association (SEPA), which led me to connect with the future leaders of NSPN. I had a great time working with SEPA, bringing fantastic speakers to our campus and having our members practice science policy by writing policy memos and op-eds. I also got a crash course on event planning when SEPA planned the first Science Policy Symposium in 2018! This entire experience catapulted me into NSPN and led me to working directly with the Eastern Region as Co-Chair, with the Election 2020 Initiative as Vice Chair, and leading the Ask A Scientist collaboration with the Federation of American Scientists.

What are you most excited about working on moving forward?

I’m really excited to transition into an active recruitment strategy that goes beyond the organic growth we have had for the past two years. It will be a combination of getting new people interested and excited in science policy and showing them the value that NSPN can bring to them. I'll hopefully be having a lot of conversations discussing the impact of science policy broadly and the impact of NSPN, both to the individual and to society!

Why are you specifically excited about the work NSPN is doing and what role do you envision for our network in science and society in the future?

One of the amazing things about NSPN is how it has been conceived and developed by early career scientists for early career scientists. That allows us to know what are the needs of our community extremely intimately and be able to develop initiatives and programming that address those needs. NSPN also operates with something similar to a startup mindset. We are constantly building new initiatives and programming at a very fast pace, doing quick pilot launches, and building up from that to something that can be scaled to larger audiences and groups. It's a fun and challenging environment to be working in, and I feel incredibly fulfilled to be able to provide all these opportunities for our members.

In the future, I envision NSPN as a massive network of STEM experts participating in science policy training and passionate about benefitting society. My hope is that our members can be mobilized to provide perspective on relevant policies and make an impactful difference on the discourse happening nationwide and at all government levels.

What do you enjoy doing with your time outside of NSPN?

Beyond NSPN and lab work, I spend my time seeing friends and nurturing those personal connections, often over delicious food and fun drinks. I’ll also try to sneak to the gym and get a workout in. I’ve moved on from my hot yoga obsession to strength training workouts!

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Visit our website to learn more about NSPN’s Strategic Goals and leadership team.


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