Virginia Tech's Newly-Founded SPEAC Paves the Way for Science Policy and Advocacy Even Amidst the Global Pandemic

Hi, I am Kathryn Lopez, the founder and current President of the Science Policy Education and Advocacy Club (SPEAC, pronounced “speak”) at Virginia Tech. I am a fourth year Ph.D. student in Environmental Engineering, conducting research on drinking water quality.

A screenshot of a Zoom meeting with several people on their webcams.

What is SPEAC?

SPEAC was founded in fall of 2019 with the goal of connecting members to careers and roles in government and policy. Our mission is to 1) educate members about careers and opportunities in science policy, 2) help members develop effective communication skills, and 3) empower members to get involved in advocacy and have a voice in shaping government and policy. SPEAC is a local Allied Group with the Union of Concerned Scientists and primarily consists of graduate students but is open to undergraduate students as well. 

What exciting new projects are you working on and looking forward to? 

This past year, we launched an advocacy team and created policy memos for the Town of Blacksburg on the topic of climate-adaptive food security policies (special thanks to Lia Kelinsky-Jones, Sarah Derrick, and Carol Davis). The next step of that project is to convene a stakeholder meeting in collaboration with the Town of Blacksburg, and we are really excited to help with that. You can read more about our work here.

How did the challenges of 2020 impact your work? What do you hope to do moving forward?

Our first club meeting took place in-person in February 2020 and then almost immediately we had to transition to entirely virtual operations. Recruiting members, planning engaging activities, and trying to build community through the thick of the pandemic was quite difficult. Despite the challenge of a virtual environment, in the past year we have managed to grow our chapter from our initial five founding members to around 20 active members.

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To learn more about SPEAC, follow them on Twitter: @speacvt

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