Category Archives: Work

Education and Mobile Devices

I spent my last morning of the recent American Chemical Society meeting in a chemical education symposium on using mobile devices in the classroom.  Not coincidentally, my father was speaking in the session, and aside from supporting family, I find Dad always has something interesting to say.

There was a gratifying audience present prior to the 8:30 AM start of the first talk, and Dad blandly threw out the grenade that according to the policies of the sponsoring society, audience members were not to take any photographs or videos or use any other electronic recording method during the presentations.  As Dad no doubt expected, this announcement sparked a spirited discussion among audience members who were actively encouraging students to use technology to enhance their learning experiences.  I’ve observed that when my own students want a copy of a question I’ve written down on paper or on the board for several, they just take a photo with their smart phones.  Several students who were out sick and missed class have submitted smart phone photos of their homework to make sure that I received it on time.  I think it’s a great habit, and I was aware that I’ve picked up that quick note capture habit.  Earlier in the week, I was quite frustrated in one talk that was rather data intensive, I wasn’t able to take notes quickly enough to capture all the information, but I was not allowed to take a photo and solve the problem quickly and easily.

Before Dad’s talk began, he requested that I keep time for him to ensure that he wouldn’t run over.  Of course, each time I signaled him, he made a comment about me or about needing to talk faster.  When in spite of being out of time he decided to take a third question at the end of his presentation, I made a choking sign, which one other presenter thought was excessive.  I felt that since I didn’t stand up and do chicken squawking imitations, I was still within the bounds of the acceptable.  Besides, I know that sometimes speakers require strong handling, and I learned these skills from Dad himself.

One interesting detail that I got out of Dad’s talk was that that students use mobile devices (laptop, cell phone, tablet) to access content and virtually never use a desktop computer. Even further, students generally use a combination of devices rather than relying on a single communication mode.  I was already keeping time via my cell phone, and I immediately couldn’t decide if it was extremely appropriate or quite inappropriate to get out my iPad to look at the pdf of the symposium schedule so I could stop Dad at the appropriate time.  I eventually went for the double device strategy and figured I was bonding with the students.

Those of you who have read Ender’s Game will recall Ender working on an electronic “desk” that provided him with lessons and served as a communication device.  Listening to all the talks suggested to me that what was a novel idea in the book has nearly become reality.  We just don’t quite know how to integrate everything together yet.  I saw how students who use exclusively an electronic textbook earn grades comparable to students who buy hardcopy (although honors students seem to be particular holdouts for “real” books.)  I learned that students who use iPads to video their experiments in laboratory write much more detailed observations in their reports.  As “flipped” classes, sections in which lecture is taught via a series of short videos prior to class so that lecture time may focus more on problem solving, become more ubiquitous, I started to wonder if my students who search YouTube for videos illustrating problem solving are starting to adapt to that new format and instinctively search for video help rather than reading the book.  Some of the chemical modeling programs that are now being used routinely in class were outstanding reminders that a picture can be worth a thousand words.  I wish I had had these ideas a few weeks ago for my Inorganic chemistry students.  I also have a long list of apps that have been used effectively in various classes, and now I want to try them all!

I was only able to stay for a handful of talks, but my notebook (yes, a physical notebook- old habits from the Senate die hard) was full of arrows and flags identifying great ideas and ways that I might incorporate some of the ideas into my own courses.  I’m not sure if coming to a meeting is more exhausting or if it is more tiring to try to work through all the great ideas I get and have to triage to figure out what is actually possible.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t stay for more of the talks, but my list of Things To Do thinks it may have been for the best.

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Act of Congress

I recently finished reading, Act of Congress, by Robert Kaiser, which describes the entire process from the financial meltdown in 2008 through the enactment of the Dodd-Frank Act to regulate banks in 2010.  I spotted the book on display in the window of the Senate Library, which was more than enough recommendation for me.  Unfortunately, it appeared that I was not alone in taking advantage of insights from the Senate Library, and by the time I tried to check it out a week before I left, I was fourth down on the list.  I was likewise unsuccessful obtaining it from the Library of Congress.  So a total of two cities and five libraries into my quest, I found a copy of the book at the Wethersfield, Connecticut public library and I prepared myself to be enlightened.

I highly recommend the book.  It is extremely well written and provides an unusually detailed perspective on the path of legislation going from an idea to a law.  Yes, there is much more to it than the Schoolhouse Rock, “I’m Just a Bill,” which provided the entirety of my insight prior to becoming a Fellow.  This piece of legislation was originally a proposal from the Obama administration suggested to the House and the Senate.  Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) was Chair of the House Financial Services Committee that worked through the bill and got it passed.  Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) was likewise Chair of the Senate Banking Committee that picked up the concept and worked out a different version of the bill.  In the House, Frank’s challenge was creating a bill that could be endorsed by the entire Democratic caucus to ensure its passage.  In the Senate, Dodd was determined to try to work out a bipartisan compromise bill, but the determination of the Republican Party leadership to deny President Obama any significant legislative triumphs ultimately shut down that option.

The two bills that passed the separate chambers had significant differences, so both chambers authorized the formation of a conference committee to reconcile the two versions into a single bill that would be re-passed by both chambers.  Conferences had been a rarity for a while on Capitol Hill since they require good faith negotiating by all parties.  Indeed with the current government shutdown over the Continuing Resolution to fund the government, the two chambers are indulging in what is known as “ping pong,” which avoids a conference and simply sends a bill with different amendments back and forth.

One of the details in the book that caused no end of surprise for the author is that the Congressional Staff are at the heart of any piece of legislation.  Having spent a year on the Hill, I simply understand that to be so.  I can’t imagine any Member of Congress with the time or inclination to become an expert on the nuances of all the different issues he or she must address.  It makes sense to me to have experts on staff to do the research and make sure that the best possible decisions get made.  Even on a single committee such as Energy and Natural Resources, there are staff who deal with the details of energy issues and separate staff who specialize in natural resources and public lands.  Although the author felt this staff involvement was a dirty little secret, I think it makes sense.

One aspect that I particularly enjoyed in the book was learning a bit more about several Senators who I observed over the past year.  Normally when a bill is on the Senate floor, there are two Floor Managers assigned to handle the flow of amendments, votes, and speeches relating to the bill.  The Floor Managers are generally the Chair and Ranking Member of the committee that handled the bill since those two Senators should know the most about the bill.  In the case of Dodd-Frank, Ranking Member Shelby had been unable to participate in bipartisan negotiations, either through personal inclination or through political pressure from his party not to cooperate, so Senator Dodd managed the floor action alone.  The only Member-level assistance he received came from Senator Mark Warner, who at the time was a very junior member from Virginia.  Sen. Warner is gifted with the habits of an old-time Senator, and he spends a fair amount of time on the floor talking to other Senators and building relationships in that process known as, “working the room.”   I enjoyed the insight that he has had those habits since his arrival.

Senator Bob Corker from Tennessee worked very effectively with Sen. Warner on the Banking Committee to try to hash out one of the areas covered by the bill.  I had noticed his work when the immigration bill came to the floor this past spring, and I appreciate his willingness to work in a bipartisan manner to reach reasonable solutions.  He was not senior enough in the Republican Party at the time to have a strong influence on other members, but a number of his suggestions made it into the bill.

Senator Elizabeth Warren first blipped my radar as she was running for election this past fall in Massachusetts, so having read Act of Congress, I now understand that she was the genesis of the idea for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  I had observed that she obviously did her homework and learned the Senate Rules quickly because when she presided on the floor, she rarely needed to consult with the parliamentarian.  That she has a long history of quelling rebellious undergraduates was obvious in her ability to bring order to her sometimes unruly colleagues in the Senate.  Now that I appreciate that her professional specialization as a Harvard Professor was in the history of banking regulation, I am even more amused at the CNBC new clip that made the rounds demonstrating several news anchors trying to tell her that she didn’t know what she was talking about.  The video demonstrates that it was not a wise move.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6rnsLNvXzM

The author had unusually unfettered access to Members and staff to write his book, and he provided valuable insight into the unique alignment of public opinion demanding action along with two talented veteran legislators chairing the relevant House and Senate committees so that the bill could be moved forward.  Especially for people who enjoy procedure, the book is an excellent read.

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Observations and Reflections on the Fellows Placement Process

IMG_4768Observing the Fellows placement process from a distance and from the other side is a striking contrast to my stress and angst-filled experience of last year.  I know so much more about both the Hill and about the Fellows experience that I have an entirely different perspective.  Of course, the quality of my year is not riding on the process this time around, so I am innately much more calm.

Through the Fellows Mafia, I have seen a list of the offices who are interested in hosting a Fellow this year.  It was double the number of offices on our list last year, which isn’t too surprising since last year was an election year and many offices were reluctant to commit to a Fellow when the future was uncertain.  I was also pleased to see that a number of freshmen Senators were interested in hosting Fellows as well.  I’ve developed a rather proprietary air about the Senators with whom I shared a first year on the Hill, and I want them to have the best information and advice possible.  A number of offices who had not expressed an interest last year were on the list for Fellows this year, and I could see that it was often because one of my fellow Fellows managed to get placed in that office and obviously both the Fellow and the office had good experiences.  (I don’t feel that I can ethically disclose details about that list- sorry!)

I look back on the choice I made last year to join the Bennet office, and I wouldn’t change a thing.  Aside from my personal conviction that I will always make the best decision given the information available at the time and thus I shouldn’t second guess myself, it was a wonderful match.  I really enjoyed the process of carving out a portfolio for myself that reflected my own interests.  Indeed although I advertised myself as having interests in energy and environment, it was really the natural resource issues of water and forestry that got me the most excited and that ultimately shaped the set of issues upon which I worked.

The Congressional Fellowships are by definition a single year, so there was never any possibility for any of us to stay for a second year. Still, it has been fun to fantasize about what a second year and a second placement might look.  Having spent a year in the Bennet personal office, I can’t imagine going to a different personal office, and I’m not sure if I would happily transition into a House office with the Democrats currently in the minority.  So working with a Senate Committee is the most intriguing dream I play with.

When I was going through placement last year, there were three Senate committees on my radar.  That didn’t mean that they were all interested in taking Fellows, but I figured they might be working in areas to which I could contribute.  The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Technology (CST) seemed like a no-brainer for a science fellow, but it has not appeared to be a particularly active committee, and in the past, a physicist has usually been the one to land a spot on the subcommittee with jurisdiction over space and NASA.  The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) also seemed right up my alley, but eventually considerable advice from former fellows sank in that this committee is noted far more for partisan bickering than for actually getting work done.  The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) is one of the plum spots for energy and environment fellows, but since I was close to two fellow Fellows on that committee last year, I think I would be interested in learning about something new.

The Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry (Ag) was completely new to my radar, but in addition to handling the farm bill, I learned that they do quite a bit of work on conservation, forestry, and energy.  I think last year I would have written them off as focusing on food and nutrition, but now that I know how much influence they have over forests in particular, they might be a fascinating place to work.  Several fellow Fellows were on the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (HSGAC, pronounced affectionately, “His-Gack”).  I never really figured out what they did, but for some reason this committee seemed like a great place to discover the unknown.

When I look back on my placement process from last year, I am especially grateful to the fellows from the previous years who were willing to take my phone calls with little or no notice and bolster my spirits or help me brainstorm new offices to investigate that were not on our initial relatively short list.  I also appreciated their willingness to invoke the “circle of trust” to speak candidly to me about the pros and cons of various offices.  I have been pleased to pay that forward.  I taught a few of this year’s new fellows about the circle of trust and gave them extra information they should have before they made a choice on a set of offers.  It seems that I did learn something last year.

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Rim Fire and Yosemite National Park

Expansion of the Rim Fire day by day

Expansion of the Rim Fire day by day

Since I spent more than a month this summer writing fire briefing memos covering the major forest fires in Colorado, I’ve found that I’m much more aware of other fires in the news.  I also still prefer to go directly to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) and Incident command (inciweb) websites to get my information rather than getting everything filtered through the news media.  I no longer have a Senator for whom to write fire briefings, so instead I’ll share my perspective with my family and friends as the first installment of “Dr. Pence WENT to Washington.”

Early on in a large fire, one of the details I watched for was obtaining an FMAG from FEMA.  I had always thought about FEMA more in terms of flooding, hurricanes, and tornadoes, and FEMA in those frameworks is most often a reactive agency.  During forest fires, however, FEMA has the ability to offer Fire Management Assistance Grants, or FMAGs.  The FMAGs provide federal financial assistance for fighting fires.  As of today, September 3rd, the cost to fight the Rim fire has risen to $72.3 million, so those financial resources are vitally important to the state.

Most fires start off small and thus are tackled by local resources.  California, with its extensive history of fires has a robust state-level resource called CAL FIRE.  Larger fires are much more complex to manage, so at some point in a mega-fire’s growth, the management will usually transition to one of the federal Incident Management Teams, with the Type 1 teams having the most expertise.  The Rim fire, which as of today is nearly 236,000 acres, is being managed by a unified command of CAL FIRE plus two Type 1 Incident Management Teams.  That’s an extremely large and complex fire, and indeed, it currently ranks as the fourth largest California wildfire since 1932 when records started becoming reliable.  The top three on the list were in 2003, 2012, and 2007, which shows the trend toward larger fires overall.

On this morning’s NIFC situation report, I was happy to see that the national preparedness level is back down to a 3.  Last week, it was up at 5, which is the highest level and indicated to me that national resources were being stretched to their limits.  Southern California remains at Level 4, but since the Rim fire is approaching 70% containment, some of the 5,000 people who were fighting the fire are being released to move onto other incidents, and resources are less constrained.

The Rim fire has simply been extremely challenging to fight.  The steep mountains of the Sierra Nevadas make it very difficult to get boots on the ground to cut fire lines, and since fire burns faster on inclines, safety of the fire crews must take precedent.  My experience from data analysis is that rapid expansion of fires is typified by two behaviors.  Crown fires, which convey fire through the tree canopies, tend to be very high intensity and can spread quickly.  Likewise spotting occurs when the wind throws burning embers forward of the fire perimeter like advance scouts so that new fires may start behind existing fire lines.  Fire retardant dropped by air tankers and by C-130 aircraft modified with MAFFS (Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems) has been critical in trying to control the growth of the fire and put out hot spots, but retardant is just one tool in the box.  Containment is achieved by creating fire lines that are devoid of fuel so the fire has nothing to burn.  For the Rim fire, this has been a combination of burnout operations where weather and terrain allowed for the execution of backfires to char a swath of trees and the fire encountering the string of lakes including the Hetch Hetchy reservoir.  If you look at the containment map, you can see the black containment lines around the bodies of water that are preventing the fires from spreading in that direction.

Black lines are containment.  Red lines are active and uncontained

Black lines are containment. Red lines are active and uncontained

From all my Colorado experiences, I know that getting the fire put out is only the first challenge.  Hetch Hetchy was a gorgeous valley that was dammed in 1923 to provide a reliable water supply for the thirsty city of San Francisco.  The Rim fire obviously can’t burn the water, but it can damage the water transfer infrastructure directly or through flooding and debris flows later.  Ash in the water either directly from the fire or from post-fire runoff down the steep mountain slopes may have a huge negative effect on the water quality as well.  In class this morning, I was talking about heterogeneous mixtures, and I brought in my souvenir bottle of water from the Colorado Springs reservoir a year after the Waldo Canyon fire.  I’ll include the picture just as a reminder of how bad the water can get.

In the upcoming year, I expect to hear the voices of the California Congressional delegation added to those of Colorado pointing out that prescribed burns to reduce the excessive fuel loads have been neglected too much as the huge cost of fighting fires pulls funds away from actually trying to prevent fires.  In 2002 in Arizona, the Rodeo-Chedeski fire burned 468,000 acres, which is about 60% the size of Rhode Island.  If you look at the burn map, the green areas were places that had undergone prescribed burns in the previous 10 years.  Those areas were not extensive enough to stop the advance of the fire, but the fire in those spaces stayed on the surface rather than jumping to the crowns, and the intensity was considerable less than untreated areas.  Unfortunately, in addition to the cost required to plan and execute prescribed burning, on rare occasions prescribed burns have escaped and turned into large fires themselves.  Also, air quality restrictions designed to improve people’s health are often counter to prescribed burns and their resulting degradation in air quality from the smoke.  Thus an additional impediment is created where one benefit must be sacrificed for another.

Rodeo-Chedeski Fire, 2002

Rodeo-Chedeski Fire, 2002

At this point, the prognosis for the Rim fire is looking good.  Sprinklers and clearing brush has helped to protect two groves of giant sequoias in Yosemite, and on the western side of the fire, firefighters have protected millions of dollars of power lines and electrical substations.  It’s still going to be a long two and a half weeks before they expect to have full containment, but the fire teams do seem to be over the hump and the weather has been cooperating.  I always have mixed emotions about big forest fires.  I don’t like all of the destruction, but I’m also fascinated by everything I’ve learned and how much interpretation I can do from the data available on the web.

Intersection of the Rim fire and Yosemite National Park from several days ago

Intersection of the Rim fire and Yosemite National Park from several days ago

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I’ve Loved These Days

On the Inauguration platform

On the Inauguration platform

I have tried to reflect upon the significance of my Fellowship, what it meant to me and what it will mean in my future, and I have come to the conclusion that it may be months before I have any notion.

For this past year, I have loved the challenge of the steep learning curve in an environment where everything was new and different.  I loved the availability of voluminous information and the variety of topics I learned about.  My casual interest in water policy turned into a significant part of my issue portfolio, and it was actually that area in which I had the greatest influence in the office.

I loved becoming an adopted daughter of Colorado and learning the locations, the issues, and the people.  I can’t count the number of times that constituents asked if I was from Colorado and I had to remind myself that technically, I had never lived in that state.  Eventually, I felt that I had earned the right to count myself as a Coloradan, and would discuss issues that “we” faced.

Learning how the government does or does not work gave me a greater appreciation for my own rights and responsibilities as a citizen.  I know that I have a right to meeting with the staffs of my Senators and Representative, and that it is my responsibility to let them know how I feel about issues that are important to me.  I also understand some of the work required to create a common goal and to move forward.  Likewise I appreciate that some people are unlikely ever to get on board.

When I started in the Senator’s office, I had a laundry list of experiences I wanted to have.  Some of them happened (going out onto the floor, helping to prepare a briefing, managing a bill), and some of them didn’t (staffing the Senator in a hearing, writing a piece of legislation.)  Some opportunities came and were completely unexpected (working with the regional staff at the Army Corps of Engineers on coordinating several water projects), but I tried to leap at every chance that I had.  In improvisation, the rule is to always say yes.  I said yes as often as possible during my fellowship.

I was determined to get as much mileage out of my Senate staff ID as I could, so although I rarely had business in the Capitol, I enjoyed going for walks to stretch my legs.  Knowing that I wanted to show friends and family around the Capitol when they visited, I studied up on the history and stories of Capitol Hill, which meant that I thought about those stories every time I passed through.  I especially loved knowing how to navigate through the labyrinth of tunnels connecting the buildings, and I wandered through those as often as possible.  Twice I took advantage of my Library of Congress reader’s card and spent several hours working in the Main Reading Room, which was delightful.  I can also take credit for starting the Fellows on a campaign of setting up tours behind the scenes of DC establishments such as the Smithsonians or the Senate Majority Leader’s office.  Our class is convinced that we set a new standard for leveraging unusual events.

Unlike the majority of my fellow Fellows, I knew that I was returning home after a year, which did influence how I spent my time.  I sought out experiences that were different or extraordinary rather than the standard circuit of Smithsonians. I tried to live like a native and attend events such as the Post Hunt or Christmas tea at the Willard Hotel as well as the White House fall and spring garden tours and the White House Christmas tour.  I made sure to go out, to see, to do.  I probably wined and dined less than an average DC native, but I think I had more adventures.  I cherished the opportunity of walking the Mall whenever I wanted and learning that each time I found a different memorial that held special meaning on that day.  I loved the luxury of walking behind the White House whenever I was in the area, simply because I could.  After an entire year, I never lost the joy of my daily walk heading toward the Capitol dome and realizing that I had the privilege of working there.

Some of you have heard me say that in the first several months of my fellowship, I decided that courage was a habit.  I had to learn so much so quickly and I have had to accomplish tasks for which I had little idea of how to begin that doing something new is far less intimidating than it used to be.  I have less need to know everything before I start on a new project, task, outing, or adventure; I’m confident that I’ll figure it out as I go.

I could not have done a year in DC without the unflagging support of my Beloved Husband, who held down the fort at home.  I am so glad that he made an effort to join me for special events such as the Inauguration as well as quite a few opportunities to explore the soft underbelly of the Capitol where even many staffers don’t go.  His favorite memory of this year in DC was the night of Memorial Day concert, which we watched from the balcony of the Capitol.  Just before the end of the concert, my BH wandered off and ended up in the Rotunda entirely alone.  Having navigated through many a crowd of tourists, that solitude in a magnificent space was one of his most marvelous privileges.

I expanded into entirely new areas of science and nature, met wonderful people, reveled in nerdiness, made lifelong friendships, and had amazing adventures.  My fellowship was everything I had hoped for and so much more.  My world has gotten bigger.  I’ve loved these days.

 

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Fellow Fellows

My fellow Fellows on the Inauguration Platform in January.

My fellow Fellows on the Inauguration Platform in January.

The Fellows represent an unusual network on Capitol Hill since we are bipartisan, bicameral, and are relatively extensive.  I’ve observed that other staffers will hang out with friends from the same office or sometimes a group of education or energy staffers will have a happy hour, but the AAAS Fellows seemed to hang out together with much more frequency.  There were a half a dozen fellows who went their own way and who I never saw after orientation, but the rest formed a dynamic and flexible network of varying social, topical, and geographic groups.  For example, I was usually part of groups that went to the Kennedy Center, I was always in for going to Smithsonian tours, I interacted with different groups on water, energy, and chemical safety reform, and I hung out frequently with Senate Fellows or with Fellows from the Russell Senate Office Building.

Our conversations and email exchanges are rather idiosyncratic.  For example, we must be the only people who watch hearings on C-Span and focus almost entirely on the people in the second row behind the Senators.  In our early months, we tended to email our friends on the back bench, “Looking good!” or “That was a good question you wrote for the Senator!”  It was even more fun to watch the TV and see the back benchers smirk when they received the email.

One day, I sent an email to a handful of Fellows saying, “I didn’t know that Senator Heinrich was an engineer!  He’s so cool!”  I swiftly received a reply back not only providing statistics of the number of engineers in each chamber (Heinrich is the only one in the Senate, I believe there are three in the House), but also commenting that one of the Fellows looked bored.  I hadn’t provided the context that I was watching a hearing on C-Span, but apparently I didn’t need to either.  There were also emails that flew back and forth a short time later when Senator Franken, obviously feeling neglected compared to the attention received by Senator Heinrich announced, “I understand Delta, even if I’m not an engineer.”

The Fellows developed their own style of conversation that involved extensive internal references that would probably have been undecipherable to anyone not watching C-Span.  One exchange from a few months ago went along these lines:

“I love McCaskill!”

“Did you see Coburn on the Floor?”

“And Landrieu?!”

It was as though we had all been watching a series of sporting events since we shared the understanding of the major actions of the day and could refer to the highlights in shorthand.  (As a key, Sen. McCaskill was splendid during the Committee on Armed Services hearing on sexual assault in the military, Sen. Landrieu was unhappy that her flood insurance amendment on the Farm Bill was not getting a vote, and she was therefore objecting to each and every amendment that Sen. Coburn was trying to call up.)

One Fellow this summer was staffing his Senator for a hearing, so he emailed me and said, “Take pictures!”  I used my iPhone to take pictures of my TV during the opening statements, but my fellow Fellow was only partly in the frame.  How could the cameraperson think that the Senator was more important?  When the first round of questions began and the focus was off his Senator, I emailed him and said he needed to try to slide to the right so I could get a better picture.  He replied, “My right or the TV’s right?”  “Your right,” I clarified, “And slouch a little.”  He managed to shift a little to one side, so I got a slightly better picture when his Senator got a turn to ask questions and he was on camera again.

The Fellows are proud that our extensive interpersonal network is generally referred to as the Fellows’ mafia.  On several occasions, I had information about the movement of a bill or the prospects of an amendment before anyone else in my office.  The Fellows were also very generous in sharing their time, expertise, and knowledge.  When a staff member in another office left suddenly for paternity leave, handling the amendments for the Water Resources Development Act abruptly became the responsibility of the Fellow in that office.  The two of us ended up spending about an hour on the phone walking through a large number of amendments trading what we knew about each and then splitting up the job of tracking down additional information for the ones that were less clear.  It was beneficial for both of us.

My fellow Fellows are fantastically bright, dedicated, and enthusiastic colleagues, and it was a pleasure to be welcomed as part of the group.  As one would expect of scientists, they are both curious and creative, and because each Fellow had a slightly different network and a slightly different set of resources, I learned about opportunities that I would not have been aware of on my own.  My nebulous awareness of some sort of Fellows network prior to my arrival in DC did not even begin to do justice to the friendships, resources, and support provided by my fellow Fellows.  Although I know those friendships will continue, one of the hardest parts of leaving the Hill was knowing that I would not be seeing my fellow Fellows on a daily or weekly basis.  It has been a privilege, an honor, and a pleasure to work with them.

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Best Stories of the Fellowship Year

IMG_5083

There have been a number of stories that didn’t find a home in my various blog posts but that were too good not to share, so I’ve been collecting them.  It’s apparent that I’ve been influenced by a lifetime of reading Reader’s Digest because I do find that this post reads like a collection of those stories.  Enjoy!

 

Introductions.  Two Fellows learned the importance of being well-introduced to a Senator back in October when they started on their assignments.  The Senator, given no clue other than the Fellows names cheerfully welcomed them, “So are you both interns?”  One fellow calmly but assertively set the record straight, holding out her hand and saying, “Hello Senator.  My name is …, I’m one of your new AAAS fellows, and I have a Ph.D. from MIT.”  Have I mentioned that the Fellows are generally not a shy lot?

 

Forest Fires.  My favorite fire story from the Incident Commander’s Blog of the Royal Gorge Fire in July:

Well, the predicted wind blew and the fire held. And as I promised we raised the containment to 50%. Remember this morning I said that Brenda, our Fire Behavior Specialist said, “today will be a good day to be a fire”. At the end of the day Craig Beckner, Operations Section Chief said, “it might have been a good day to be a fire, but we were better.”

 

Too Much Information? Our scheduler was having a conversation with one of the other fellows and apparently questions whether or not Walgreens had a presence in DC.  Three of us immediately responded, “There’s one in Cleveland Park,” “There’s one by my house,” and “There’s one by my metro stop.”  She just looked at us and announced that being in our office was like being in the middle of Google.

 

Terminology.  One morning, the staff in the DC office of one of the Fellows were uncertain if the staff in the state office would be able to call in to the regularly scheduled staff meeting teleconference.  The Chief of Staff explained that there was a protest going on at the state office.  When he asked about the subject of the protest, he was informed the people were pro-immigration.  The saavy DC staffers informed their boss that when you have a pro-issue protest, it’s called a rally.

 

Only in DC.  One of the LA’s in my office reported being in the midst of a crowd recently and from one side, he heard a voice call out, “Marco!”  There was promptly a reply volunteered from the other side of the group, “Rubio!”  When I told this story to my fellow Fellows, they all went for that response as well.

 

Never underestimate a Fellow! One of my fellow Fellows had a run in with a staffer in another Senator’s office, who was rather rude to her.  She mentioned the incident to her supervisor, who then mentioned it to the Senator.  The Senator, who is very close to his staff, felt that this behavior was unacceptable, so he made a point of having a conversation with his Senate colleague when they were on the Floor for a vote and explaining that he felt this behavior was unacceptable.  The offending staffer called the Fellow and said, “My boss and your boss seem to think that I hung up on you.”  The Fellow replied, “That’s because you did!”

 

Elevators, round 1. As an ultra-cool Senate Fellow, I grew accustomed to seeing Senators regularly in the hallway.  I was, however, challenged when I encountered them on elevators.  In the middle of a vote, some of the elevators become Senators-only service, and I was strongly warned about getting on to those elevators during those times.  At one point, I was ready to follow Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas onto an elevator, and at the last moment I realized that it was Senators only service.  I stopped short, and I’m sure that my eyes were like dinner plates as I looked guilty for what I had almost done.  Senator Moran was very kind, smiled, and gestured me to join him on the elevator, and I was most grateful.

 

Elevators, round 2. My complete failure at being an ultra-cool Senate Fellow happened when I was on an elevator, and it stopped to let on Senator McCain.  I have no idea why I got so flustered, but in my effort to try to keep my cool Fellow persona, I got confused, decided this must be my door, and I got off.  Of course, in the absence of Senator McCain, I realized I had gotten off a floor too early.  So I jogged down the steps to the next floor, only to meet Senator McCain getting off the elevator!  Complete fail on coolness for that day!

 

When Worlds Collide.  I will emphasize that the following story came to me at least third-hand, so I vouch only for its entertainment value, not for its veracity.  It seems that Jennifer Lopez (also known as J. Lo) decided that she wanted to talk to Senator Reid about immigration.  She proceeded to keep the Senate Majority Leader waiting for 30 minutes, which is rather beyond the pale in the Senate.  Meanwhile, I’m told that Senator Schumer was very interested in meeting the diva and he lurked in Senator Reid’s outer office until the star showed up.  Unfortunately, it became obvious that Senator Schumer was under the impression that he was meeting Beyonce rather than J. Lo and the error was apparent to the observers.  As the balancing side of “when worlds collide,” Ms. Lopez spied a photograph of former Majority Leader Tom Daschle and asked, “Why do you have a picture of Dick Clark in your office?

 

Interns.  If you choose to ask your Senator or Member of Congress for a tour of the Capitol instead of going through the Capitol Visitors Center, there are advantages and disadvantages.  On the bright side, you don’t end up on a tour with 74 of your closest friends and all of you wearing headsets so you can hear your guide.  On the other hand, your tour is given by interns from the office, and some are definitely better than others.  Here are a few intern gems from other offices that I’ve heard about:

“The mural around the Rotunda was painted by a guy named Constantidi.”  (The correct answer is Constantino Brumidi.)

“This white marble star set into the floor of the Crypt marks the center of DC and divides the city into quadrants.  I think there are four or five of them.”

How many quadrants?

How many quadrants?

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