Fellowship allows graduate student to follow mom's footsteps into public service

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A few months into her graduate studies at Penn State, meteorology student Caroline Normile attended a presentation that would inspire her for years. Penn State meteorology alumnus Jonathan Petters had returned to campus to chat about his public service as a science and technology policy fellow with the Department of Energy.

"He talked about how he was able to apply his training and communicate the importance of Earth and natural sciences with his colleagues at the Department of Energy," she said. "I still have the notes I took during that lecture — coffee-stained, seven years old now — because I knew then that's what I wanted to do after getting my Ph.D."

Normile defended her doctoral dissertation in August 2017, and her path after graduation is taken straight from those coffee-stained notes.

She is one of 280 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellows. Of these, one fellow will serve in the Federal Judicial Center, 36 will serve in Congress, and 243 in the executive branch among 18 agencies or departments including overseas missions. Normile, whose appointment in sponsored by the American Meteorological Society, is among the 36 who will be placed in Congressional offices.

Normile says she had always held public service in high regard because her mother served for over 35 years as a speech writer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Working to serve society is incredibly meaningful to me," she said, "and scientists have many opportunities to do this, whether through conducting research or helping to inform policy."

“I’m deeply honored to have been selected as a Congressional Science Fellow, and I’m excited to gain firsthand experience in the legislative and political process. The role of fellows is to ‘steward the science’ and I hope to use my training in atmospheric science to help advance evidence-based policy.”

As an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow, Normile will interact closely with politicians and staff members in a to-be-determined Congressional office. She will take on a variety of projects and contribute her scientific education and perspective to projects such as assisting with the preparation of legislation, interacting with a variety of stakeholders and helping Congressional members prepare for hearings and speeches.

Normile honed her research skills in two areas of meteorology during her graduate studies. For her master’s degree she studied atmospheric chemistry with Anne Thompson, adjunct faculty member in Penn State’s Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science and senior scientist in NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. For her doctoral degree she studied carbon cycle science with Ken Davis, professor of meteorology and atmospheric science. Her dissertation focused on reducing the uncertainty of carbon dioxide sink calculations.

In addition to conducting research, Normile immersed herself in opportunities to work with policy and science outreach. She strengthened her leadership and communication skill set by serving as chair of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences' Graduate Council for three years. She was also an active member of the Science Policy Society graduate student organization, participated in Congressional visit days with the American Geophysical Union and other professional societies, and was a member of an intensive Summer Colloquium program hosted by the American Meteorological Society.

Through these activities she interacted with students from different disciplines as well as leadership from think tanks, nongovernmental organizations, Congressional members, and staff members from a variety of governmental offices. These experiences illustrated the "opportunity and necessity for scientists to work with policy makers to bridge gaps in communication," she said.

Normile will be doing just that through the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship, which begins in September 2017. After meeting with Congressional offices seeking fellows, Normile will be paired with an office where she will work as a regular staff member for the one-year fellowship.

"I'm looking forward to bringing my expertise to the table and working with an office where I'll be able to make a real contribution," she said.

For more information on AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships, visit www.aaas.org/stpf.

Last Updated October 23, 2017