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Tech congressional fellows become bridges for understanding

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 07 - October 9, 1997

A six-month stint in Congress teaches Virginia Tech graduate students how to become part of the policy-making process. Students interested in that opportunity should apply to the Graduate School by October 20.
Mary Ellen Jones, a doctoral student in science and technology studies, started work in Congressman Rick Boucher's office on July 24. She is the third Virginia Tech student to be named a congressional fellow.
She became a student in the interdisciplinary program where students and faculty members study the interaction of science and society because, she said, "I'm interested in science, but I've observed that science and the humanities don't often talk to each other. I hope to form a bridge. Policy makers are usually not scientists, so they need someone familiar with science," she said. "And scientists need someone familiar with policy making."
Jones worked as a medical technician since earning a bachelor's degree in biology from Towson State University in 1977. She also earned an MBA in health administration from Loyola College, and master of science in poultry from the University of Maryland before coming to Virginia Tech.
Philip H. Parker, a Ph.D. student in public administration, recently completed his turn as a congressional fellow. After earning a bachelor's degree in history from Rice University, Parker worked as a journalist for 16 years, including covering the Texas legislature for the Amarillo and Lubbock newspapers, then decided he'd rather make a personal contribution to public policy than write about it. He earned a master of public administration from Texas Tech was an intern in the Lubbock Mayor's Office for two years while he was a master's student, then began his Ph.D. career in 1995 at Virginia Tech.
In Boucher's office, Parker monitored information and legislation concerning several issues assigned to him, and responded to constituents' concerns on those issues, he explains. "For example, on tax issues I ended up watching a lot of legislation and answering mail regarding capital gain and, of particular interest to rural Virginia, estate taxes." He also monitored action on campaign financing, science and technology, higher education, religion, and housing. "My favorite was gun control because folks in Southwest Virginia remind me of people in Texas on this issue," says Parker.
Don Lloyd Cook, a Ph.D. student in marketing, was the first congressional fellow. He came to Virginia Tech after earning a bachelor of science, studying and practicing law, and earning an MBA from the University of Arkansas.
"I'm interested in the regulatory impact on marketing. I wanted to learn about the legislative process," Cook said. "And I learned a lot, including about how a congressional office works." He said a fellow is a part of the staff, a legislative assistant.
While specific duties depend upon the intern's experience and interest as well as the needs of the office at the time, duties can include constituent services, special studies, and support of on-going office activities. Activities will likely include work issues related to science and technology, labor, and education.
The opportunity to become a congressional fellow is open to students in all fields.
"Work with congressional staffs is intense and often involves long hours during peak legislative periods, but the experience gained can play a very significant role in rounding out the graduate experience and enhance the career development of the successful fellowship candidate," said John Eaton, associate provost for graduate studies.
Students interested in the fellowship and the $6,000 stipend and one semester Tuition Scholarship may submit an application by October 20 to Eaton at the Graduate School, 202 Sandy. A university selection committee will make the initial selections. Finalists will be submitted to review by Congressman Boucher's Office and the final selection will be made by his office. Selections will be announced by November 3. Application information is on the Internet at http://www.rgs.vt.edu/internl.html.