Melissa DeSantiago Walterboro, S.C. / 24 Biosystems Engineering BS, 2014 Clemson University CHCI/STEM Public Policy Fellow Washington, D.C. Upon graduation from Clemson University, I was one of twelve selected nationally for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI) Public Policy Fellowship, where I fulfilled a nine-month fellowship in Washington, D.C., working in the federal service and linking my engineering background to the public policy realm. As the CHCI STEM Fellow, it was my goal to gain firsthand experience and apply my background to impact current environmental issues. My first placement was with the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, where I experienced how that committee has significant jurisdiction in areas within biosystems engineering. I witnessed legislators discuss climate change, the future use of fossil fuels, and space exploration. (I also noted an unfortunate disproportion of engineers or STEM professionals represented in Congress.) Later, I transitioned from Capitol Hill to fulfill a second fellowship at the Department of the Interior in the Office of the Secretary. Under the direction of Secretary Sally Jewell, I took part in research for policy advisors on a wide array of issues, including reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which manages and safeguards public lands. Understanding the science behind the issues proved advantageous. Work in federal service allowed me to gain interdisciplinary skills in the public policy realm. However, my biosystems engineering background remains key to the work I hope to do in the future. CHCI’s mission is to develop the next generation of Latino leaders. I pursued this opportunity in the nation’s capital because it is essential to be well informed on public policy, as it will always play a critical role in society. It is also essential to continue making strides in incorporating all types of professions in the legislative process. The role that we, as agriculture and biological engineers, have in government is indispensable, and with our expertise we can make significant contributions to create policies, beginning with research and including the implementation of designs. During the CHCI 37th Annual Awards Gala, I was highlighted as one of the few Latinas in STEM and spoke in front of hundreds of attendees and leaders on the need for a more interdisciplinary approach to achieve important national goals. I spoke directly after Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi! Check out this clip, which was shown before I took the podium: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-aUw4yYKKdI. Because of my undergraduate education and experiences, I have a strong desire to remain focused on environmental protection. In graduate school this fall, I hope to resume the work that I love, contributing to improving the quality of life through research to promote healthy and sustainable communities.
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