Promoting Prosperity in Policy: ProSPER Creates Opportunities for Members to Learn and Engage

Science policy is a collaborative effort. Several officers of ProSPER at Washington University in St. Louis (Kevin Blake, Rosie Dutt, Kayla Hannon, Emilee Kotnik, and Max Lyon) share their insights on maintaining momentum while activities must take place virtually.

ProSPER: Promoting Science Policy, Education, and Research.

ProSPER (Promoting Science Policy, Education, and Research) is a graduate student organization at Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) that helps students explore issues in science policy, advocacy, communication, and community outreach. During the pandemic, we have transitioned our traditional activities to virtual formats and have shifted focus to building a strong, supportive community where our members can be exposed to various topics in science policy and practice their science communication skills.


One way we have created an opportunity for students to practice their writing skills is through our blog. The ProSPER Blog is a platform for graduate students to publish articles about scientific research and science policy, targeted to a non-expert, general audience. This platform helps WUSTL graduate students gain experience in written science communication and allows them to have their work published in a shareable format. Students have written on topics ranging from consumer DNA sequencing and personal privacy, regulations on fetal tissue research, and biomarkers for mental health diseases.

In addition, ProSPER runs a monthly book club so we can examine and discuss written science communication and perspectives in diversity, equity, and inclusion in science. This semester’s book is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. This work was chosen because it discusses relevant topics including medical research ethics and racial injustice and is a great example of effective science writing for general audiences.

We have also been applying and practicing our writing skills in a policy context. Last year we submitted 2 policy memos to the NSPN/JSPG Policy Memo Competition, and we plan to participate in the competition again this year. We have also held a workshop on how to develop, write, and format Science Notes, which are short 2 to 3-page documents requested by legislators on the scientific background of a specific topic relevant to the state and current legislation. We were also joined by Jill Barnas, the Children, Family and Seniors Policy Fellow for Missouri Science and Technology (MOST), who was able to explain how Science Notes were able to change the life of some of the most vulnerable Missourians and influence legislation. We are currently in the process of working with MOST to write and edit Science Notes for Missouri representatives. 

Community Engagement

Over the last couple of years, we have made efforts to engage with our local community. Last year ProSPER hosted a movie night that featured Atomic Homefront, a documentary about the radioactive waste at the West Lake Landfill in St. Louis County. Atomic Homefront detailed the work of Just Moms STL, a local advocacy group who pushed the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to acknowledge and prepare cleanup of the radiation hazard. This year we are partnering with Connections, a diversity, equity, and inclusion group on campus, to learn more about this active local issue. Just Moms STL will be presenting at a joint meeting in March to discuss how we can be involved and use our platform as graduate students to advocate for change. We will follow the presentation with a workshop on how to advocate for environmental issues and disseminate this information to a broader Washington University audience.

We have also engaged with the local community through partnerships with several WUSTL student organizations and non-profit organizations. For example, we have worked with WashU Votes to expand voter registration efforts on the medical campus. Before the pandemic, we partnered with the Union of Concerned Scientists and hosted a forum to discuss health disparities in St. Louis that was free and open to the public. We are currently working with the Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD) at WUSTL on a career seminar featuring Dr. Rush Holt Jr., former US Representative and AAAS Chief Executive Officer, called A Scientist goes to Congress.  

All of these efforts have been the work of a dedicated leadership team that has been amazingly creative and flexible with the twists and turns of the past year. We are also thankful for new members that have contributed their ideas to our monthly meetings and are the driving force behind our team. Although there have been many changes this year, our vision and goals have remained centered on helping graduate students to develop the skills to advocate for evidence-based policies and communicate science to broad audiences.

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To learn more about ProSPER, follow them on Twitter: @WUSTLProSPER.

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