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Connecting STEM and Public Affairs Disciplines

News Type College News

(From left) Ethan Rivera, Ohio State Battelle Center for Science, Engineering and Public Policy; Shannon Portillo, Watts College of Public Service at Arizona State University; and Jackie Speedy, School of Public Policy and Management at Carnegie Mellon University

By Ethan Rivera

Public affairs programs across the United States collaborate within their institutions to inspire students in STEM disciplines to engage in public service and public policy through their professional work.

At the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, the Ohio State Battelle Center for Science, Engineering and Public Policy considers technology advances and complex challenges that face society to inform a new way of preparing future technologists to make a difference in the public interest. Through courses, research and communities of practice and engagement, the center develops the talent, technologies and multidisciplinary teams that support innovation, strategic decision-making and research.

“Our center is preparing students to be innovators by providing the essential skills they need to communicate effectively, collaborate across disciplines and consider the unintended consequences of the newest technologies,” said Ethan Rivera, student programming lead for the Ohio State Battelle Center.

Technology, Policy Merge for Public Service

“Wicked problems”: Government and nonprofit agencies address complex challenges with assistance from the John Glenn College of Public Affairs Rapid Innovation for Public Impact course at the Ohio State Battelle Center for Science, Engineering and Public Policy. Meet students who developed solutions for the Ohio Department of Transportation to support the growth of the advanced air mobility industry and to address equity challenges in deploying electric vehicle charging stations.

“Our research, courses and training programs are united by the shared principle of designing solutions with people in mind and innovating in the public’s interest,” Rivera said. “We teach engineers to be better communicators, philosophers to imagine the impact of technology, psychologists to consider how people adopt innovation, scientists to be storytellers, policy experts to translate science and so much more.”

At this fall’s Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration Annual Conference, Rivera convened a panel on the ways public affairs and STEM education can connect to create a richer educational experience. 

The panel featured Shannon Portillo, director and professor in the Watts College of Public Service at Arizona State University, and Jackie Speedy, associate dean of the School of Public Policy and Management at Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

“We are uniquely positioned as universities and public affairs colleges to be the glue that allows our students to grow and make an impact on society,” Rivera said.

These universities accomplish the goal of collaborating across STEM and public affairs disciplines in unique ways. Some programs are building curricular options where policy students learn more about data analytics and how to utilize science in policy and public affairs spaces. Others are creating partnerships with industry to create opportunities for students of different disciplines to gain practical experiences that bring them together and provide new skills.

“There are different institutional barriers to collaborations with STEM units at every university, but there is still a lot we can learn from each other when we have the opportunity to be in conversation,” Portillo said.

Providing the skills, no matter the barriers, is an important part of these collaborations. 

“Data is ubiquitous, so it is imperative to train public servants to utilize data to inform decision-making and to create a more efficient, effective and equitable government,” said Speedy.

The interdisciplinary work of public service offers opportunities to imagine the ways those trained in public affairs connect with the latest technologies. 

“Students who are traditional public service students will spend their careers collaborating with folks with a STEM background,” Portillo said. “Building these collaborations into our academic programs through curriculum and co-curriculars is vital for the future of our programs.”

See how the Battelle Center for Science, Engineering and Public Policy develops the talent, technologies and multidisciplinary teams that translate highly technical information for key decision-makers and leaders, anticipate the unintended consequences of technologies and innovate new methods for the betterment of all people.