Blending Science and Public Policy

October 21, 2020

Three CBS students learn the ropes of science-based public policy with the Freshwater Society

When you think of someone pursuing public policy, you might conjure up an image of a political science or public affairs student. CBS alumna Katherine Himes, however, wants to bring scientists into this notion. 

As a scientist involved in public policy herself, she knows there is tremendous value in the unique perspective of scientists but noticed there was a serious gap in opportunity for undergraduate students in this field. Last fall, she created the CBS Science and Public Policy Scholarship to launch students’ careers. This year, her scholarship funded three CBS interns at the Freshwater Society.

The Freshwater Society is a non-profit that protects freshwater resources through science-based policy action and advocacy. Former Dean Richard Caldecott helped found the organization, and CBS Dean Valery Forbes serves as the organization’s board president. “As an ecologist myself, I know how important it is to protect our freshwater resources,” says Forbes. “I am excited that our students have an opportunity to learn how to meld their love of science with public policy and make lasting change.” 

This summer, Ashley Laskowski, George Roy and Colin Vehmeier worked with Freshwater to conduct research and learn the ropes of science-based policy in action.

“This internship taught me the difficulty of conveying science, especially to people who aren’t involved in the field,” said Roy, a biochemistry major who spent the summer researching hormone disrupting compounds in the soil. “Figuring out ways to distill the complex research that I read was a challenging experience for me.” 

Colin Vehmeier, an ecology major, studied how antibiotics in manure affect the soil microbiome. He says this opportunity to create his own research project and explore it in-depth allowed him to grow as a scientist. “Seeing how there could be potential, real-world changes from my work was a powerful experience,” he says.

Ashley Laskwoski, a biology major, spent her summer studying how antibiotics present in water can affect communities reliant on that resource. Laskowski says one of the biggest takeaways from her experience was learning to take a critical eye to the information you receive and root out any potential biases.

Beyond research, the interns submitted public comments on a decision by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, taking real-time political action based on their findings from the summer.

“The experiences that these students had were similar to what you would expect from people who have their graduate degree in hand or people who are mid-career and stepping into policy for the first time,” said Himes. “To be able to do this now is exactly what we wanted to happen and I’m thrilled.” —KEEGAN CARDA