Making the Pool Bigger: Advocating for NSF and AMS

Editor’s Note: Lea Jenkins is in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Clemson University. She represented the AMS at the 23rd Annual Capitol Hill Exhibition of the Coalition for National Science Funding. Key to the mission of the AMS Washington Office are telling compelling stories of how our federal investment in basic science research pays off for American taxpayers and expanding the pool of AMS members who are in contact with their congressional representatives is an important piece of that. In the previous post on this blog you can read about another such example, as explained by David Donoho (Stanford) at a recent Congressional Briefing.

On May 16, 2017, I had the distinct privilege of traveling to our nation’s capital and lobbying my congressional delegation, on behalf of the American Mathematical Society (AMS), for increased funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF).  I arrived at Washington Reagan National Airport mid-morning, and shortly after my arrival at the hotel was met by Anita Benjamin, Assistant Director for the AMS Washington Office.  Anita had already scheduled meetings with legislative assistants in each of the offices for the South Carolina senators and in the office of my representative to the U.S. House.  The assistants who set aside their time to meet with us were friendly, engaged, and extremely professional.  The project I touted to advocate for the increase in NSF funding is rooted in efficient use of water resources in agricultural regions.  As agriculture is the #1 industry in SC, and all of us are concerned with the depletion of existing water resources, my project was well-tailored for the audience I had.  Over the past few years, as my colleague Kathleen Kavanagh and I have worked on our applied agriculture problem, I have often heard the comments similar to to “We would never have thought of using math in an agriculture problem”. I am thrilled to be able to make more people aware of the broad range of applications for which mathematics makes significant contributions.  I was especially thrilled to be able to make those in charge of voting on national budgets aware of the impact mathematics can have on society.

The main event of the trip was the reception hosted by the Coalition for National Science Funding (CNSF), where over thirty researchers contributed poster presentations (  I had the opportunity to visit many of the posters prior to the start of the reception and I was amazed at the variety of research projects being moved forward in the U.S.  Researchers were sponsored by professional societies and universities that are members of CNSF; these organizations are all dedicated to ensuring funding for general research becomes a priority for Congress.  I was pleased to discuss my work with (among others) Henry Warchall, senior advisor for the NSF Directorate for Mathematical Sciences; France Córdova, NSF Director; and Representative Jerry McNerney from California, the only mathematician in Congress.  Anita was responsible for getting fruit displays for my booth which all visitors were invited to enjoy!  The display also enforced the connection we wanted the representatives to make — that is, that NSF-sponsored research impacts our lives every day, often in ways no one suspects.

The time at the reception flew by, and my day in Washington was over well before I was ready.  I had no idea I would enjoy visiting the offices of my congressional delegation as much as I did.  I was awestruck being in the buildings that housed the offices of the Senators and Representatives and seeing the level of activity surrounding these offices on a daily basis.  I gained an appreciation for the staff supporting the work of the members of Congress; their schedules are packed, and they handle a variety of tasks that keep government functioning.

I also cannot say enough for the extraordinary efforts of Karen Saxe, AMS Associate Executive Director and Washington Office Director, and Anita Benjamin to organize my entire stay and ensure the trip was a success.  I was exhausted when I returned to my hotel room, but so willing to repeat the entire experience.  I strongly encourage those of you who have not done so personally contact your Congressional delegation to make their staff members aware of the gains we can make as a society with appropriate levels of funding.  Do not hesitate to make the trip to Washington if asked by one of the CNSF organizations.  I believe you will find it well worth the short amount of time asked of you.


About Karen Saxe

Since January 1, 2017, Karen Saxe is Director of the Washington Office of the AMS which works to connect the mathematics community with Washington decision-makers who impact science funding. Before joining the AMS, Karen was DeWitt Wallace Professor in the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. Over many years she has contributed time to the AMS, MAA, and AWM, including service as vice president of the MAA and in policy and advocacy work with all three. She was the 2013-2014 AMS-AAAS Science & Technology Policy Congressional Fellow, working for Senator Al Franken on education issues, with focus on higher education and STEM education. In Minnesota she has served on the Citizens Redistricting Commission following the 2010 census and serves on the Common Cause Minnesota Redistricting Leadership Circle. She has three children and, when not at work especially enjoys being with them and reading, hiking, skiing, and sharing good food and wine and beer with family and friends.
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