UO undergraduate advocates for science funding in D.C.

This article first appeared in Around the O on April 26.

It’s a good thing Rachael Cleveland had early exams last term.

That’s because the environmental science major spent her finals week in Washington, D.C. learning about science policy and speaking with the staff of U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Peter DeFazio about the importance of funding scientific research.

The UO sponsored Cleveland to attend the 2018 Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering workshop, also known as CASE, from March 18-21. The workshop, which is put on by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, educates science, technology, engineering and math students about science policy and advocacy.

The CASE program is funded largely by the UO vice president of research and innovation with support also provided by Government and Community Relations. 

“We’re proud to support this outstanding program, which empowers students like Rachael to become strong advocates for basic research,” said David Conover, the UO’s vice president for research and innovation. “There’s never been a more important time for us to make the case for robust funding for federal R&D, and it’s critical that we include the researchers of tomorrow in our advocacy efforts.”

Out of nearly 200 workshop participants, Cleveland was the only one from Oregon. Because the event is geared towards graduate students, she also was also one of the few undergraduates in attendance.

For the first few days of the program, Cleveland learned about government processes, science policy and science communication at the headquarters of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

On the last day, Betsy Boyd, the UO’s associate vice president for federal affairs, arranged for Cleveland to tour the Capitol building and meet with members of Wyden’s and DeFazio’s staff.

“It’s important for the university to have money to give to students to do their research,” Cleveland said. “One of the main talking points when I went to talk with my representatives was to give examples as to why their funding matters. It’s more impactful when you can tell a story about why I’ve benefited and why other students will benefit from how they choose to fund science policy.”

Cleveland, who is minoring in biology, plans to graduate with honors this spring. For her thesis, she is studying how mercury changes in concentration and form as it goes from an abandoned mine near Cottage Grove, through some tributaries and into a watershed.

“I think because I’m directly affected by their choices, I have a greater impact talking about why funding science is important, rather than if the university sent one of their own representatives,” Cleveland said. “Being able to talk to the students themselves and see how they’re directly impacted I think makes a more lasting impression than if the university would just go out and say, ‘I want more money.’”

Cleveland is originally from Folsom, California. Her family now lives in Kaneohe, Hawaii, but she has only ever registered to vote in Oregon.

After graduating, she will temporarily work at the Springfield office of the U.S. Forest Service.

“I’ve known for a while that I want to work for the government in some capacity, but now rather than looking at it from just a government agency standpoint, I’m also considering more of a science policy standpoint,” she said.

“Public policy is a pretty important topic, but I don’t think a lot of people get any education in it,” she said. “So even if I wasn’t planning on pursuing public policy, it’s still important to know how to communicate with your representatives to be able to get your voice heard and to be involved with the political process.”

—By Sarah Eddy, University Communications