My AMS internship in the Washington, DC office

Editor’s Note: This is the second of two consecutively posted pieces by the AMS Office of Government Relations AY2017-18 student interns. As you will read, Eliot is an undergraduate at the University of Maryland.

My name is Eliot Melder, and I have been an intern at the American Mathematical Society’s Office of Government Relations for the past six months as part of the University of Maryland Global Fellows in Washington, D.C. Science Diplomacy program. During my time with the AMS, I’ve had the chance to work on important projects and apply skills I’ve learned in my classes, as well as engage in the political process and travel to the hill several times to meet with key figures and attend briefings. This internship has been an incredible experience overall, and I’m grateful to both the AMS and the Fellows program for giving me this opportunity.

A little about me: I’m a sophomore at the University of Maryland, College Park studying computer science and math. I’m taking classes in algorithm design and automata theory, and I’m a TA for discrete mathematics. My ultimate goal is to go to grad school for automata theory or another branch of computer science theory.

After becoming the intern at the AMS Office of Government Relations in October, I was given my first major project, which was to provide an analysis of National Science Foundation funding by state, on both relative and per-capita scales. I was also tasked with determining which states would gain, retain, or lose eligibility for the NSF EPSCoR (https://www.nsf.gov/od/oia/programs/epscor/) assistance program if the eligibility criterion was shifted from percentage-based to per-capita-based. This project was motivated by the introduction of a bill in Congress known as the Smarter EPSCoR Act, which – if enacted – would apply this change.

My first instinct as a CS student was to write a program. So I did – I wrote a program to read through the award data, then computed the average funding per state and per capita and determined EPSCoR eligibility for each state based on these numbers. I determined which states would gain and lose eligibility if the system were to switch.

The EPSCoR project was my first real chance to apply my computer science skills to a real-world problem. I was able to apply principles of data collection and analysis from my courses, and produce results that had an impact on policy decisions.

My second large project was updating nine of the Coalition for National Science Funding’s “State Sheets” (https://cnsf.us/factsheets2017.cfm), which are two-page brief sheets showcasing NSF-funded research in each state and providing statistics about funding information. The sheets are updated yearly with new data. Updating the state sheets was a more relaxed and fun project, and I was able to see many examples of interesting research.

My final major project was to create a detailed breakdown, by agency, of federal government spending for mathematical research. Again, I had the chance to apply my computer science skills; I wrote a program to sift through lists of millions of recent grants published on spending.gov and pick out the mathematical ones based on the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) number assigned to each grant, as well as the description text. I then organized each grant by agency and produced a breakdown of mathematically related grants by agency. We discovered some enlightening results, including that the Federal Highway Administration awards many mathematically related grants.

The grant breakdown project was an excellent chance for me to apply the concepts I have learned this year in my classes at the University of Maryland. I have studied text pattern matching, Ruby scripting, and input processing this semester, and I was able to incorporate these ideas into my program for the project and discover useful information hidden in the data.

I have also had the chance to go to the Hill and attend briefings, meetings, and panels about policy issues on which the AMS is interested. Among the events I have been lucky enough to attend are a panel hosted by Scientific American and featuring Rep. Jerry McNerney, and a private briefing on cryptography for Senators Blumenthal, Nelson, Schumer and Shaheen. This internship has given me the chance to become more closely involved in politics than I ever thought possible, and I have had many valuable and amazing experiences throughout.

I am grateful to the AMS and the UMD Global Fellows program for giving me this opportunity. I have had a fantastic seven months working at the office, and I want to thank my coworkers here at the Office of Government Relations for making each workday great. I look forward to continuing my involvement with the AMS beyond the end of my internship in May, and using this experience as a starting point to achieve my mathematical goals in the future.

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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