Math In The Capital

Visiting with Catherine Paolucci at Senator Franken’s office, where this well known friend of science displays his pride in Minnesota higher ed.

A few weeks ago I had occasion to visit the capital — and the Capitol — and as is the custom in Washington D.C., I had coffee with interesting people. We’ve blogged quite a bit here about the expressionless face emoji state of science and truth in our current world, but I was happy to catch up with the people on the ground kicking butt in the name of the AMS.

Karen Saxe, who is the director of the Washington D.C. office of the AMS, keeps us all in the loop with her blog Capital Currents. Saxe began her position in the D.C. office in January, and her role in that office is to be a link between the mathematicians who are part of the AMS and the lawmakers and legislators of Capitol Hill. She blogs about current legislation of interest to mathematicians, most recently about a bill promoting diversity in STEM fields. Also, particularly relevant to anyone who is seeking NSF funding, Saxe has blogged about the congressional budget approval process and what that means for us.

Saxe isn’t the only AMS insider with access to the legislative branch, Catherine Paolucci is this year’s AMS Congressional Fellow. Paolucci, who is also an assistant professor at SUNY New Paltz, is working in Senator Al Franken’s office and is in a unique position to work with the AMS and its members while also advising and informing policy decisions. Together with Saxe, she creates a pipeline for communicating AMS priorities to Congress and the AMS Committee on Science Policy.

As a fellow, Paolucci also helps AMS members organize successful hill visits and initiate successful grassroots efforts. It is important to have mathematicians in the political space, she says “strength and power comes from people on the ground.” Paolucci also stresses “the power of state level advocacy and importance in constituents engaging with their own senators.”

So, you know how people are always on you to call your congresspeople and tell them what you want?

It’s really important that you do that.

One thing that Paolucci has been interested in is math as a tool for social justice. She’s been studying the role that algebra plays in defining life trajectory and career paths, and she sees the importance of supporting after school programs to make sure students have access to this vital tool. She is surprised to find that many folks in D.C. don’t even realize how important math is, and often its a matter of packing mathematical ideas in a way that makes them resonate with people. Of course we know math is important, but her job as a fellow is to make sure the legislators really know what can (and should!) be done. Believe it or not, very few legislators have a background in math or science.

If you’re interested in applying to be a Congressional Fellow, applications are due each February. In the meantime, don’t forget to call your senators and representatives to remind them how much funding for math and science means to you.

I also had coffee with Senator Bob Casey while I was in the capital. He also told me to keep calling him to tell him what was important to me, and — this part was really exciting to me and should be to you too — he told me to bring my students to D.C. and his staffers would arrange a tour of the Capitol and the White House. So get your Math Club, AMS Grad Student Chapter or AWM Student Chapter pumped up about math and public policy, pack them in a bus, and tell your senator you’re on your way!

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