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One SPIE Student's visit to the US Congress

By Dan Christensen

Congressional Visits Day is a two-day annual event that brings scientists, engineers, researchers, educators, and technology executives to Washington to raise visibility and support for science, engineering, and technology. Uniquely multi-sector and multi-disciplinary, the CVD is coordinated by coalitions of companies, professional societies and educational institutions and it is open to all people who believe that science and technology comprise the cornerstone of our Nation's future.

Why I attended CVD
We are blessed as citizens of the United States to live in a society where we have the freedom and right to speech. With these freedoms come an obligation to take an active part in our own governance. Unfortunately, experience shows it is much more convenient for a population to complain in anonymity than to take the time and effort to personally act. While it might be difficult, generally speaking, for one person to make a difference, personally communicating with our elected officials and their staff is one of the greatest opportunities we are afforded as individuals to make a singular significant impact. Our government is fundamentally constructed to act in response to the voice of the people. As a member of our society and having been so richly blessed with much education and experience, it is my duty and obligation to be a part of that American voice.

SPIE members and staff gathered at the nation's capital to advocate for science, engineering, and technology.

Literally all of the political talking points of interest to SPIE are directly or indirectly of impact to me. The America COMPETES Act calls for increases in funding to NSF and other agencies instrumental to academic research. This Act also calls for funding increases for the SBIR and STTR programs, which directly lead to technological innovation and job creation -- very important issues for me as a young professional. The Rare Earth Elements (REE) and Export Controls Initiative discussions both have a direct impact on our nation's ability to compete on a global scale and left untouched will lead to continued handicapping of our ability to innovate and encouragement of international competitors in both technology and job creation. Most people universally agree that Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education funding and reform impacts all of us as a country and is part of the backbone of our future financial stability and national security. Without continued federal support in each of these areas, the future I have to look forward to as an American scientist and citizen is unsettling.

What I learned at CVD
Our elected representatives rely heavily on us, the average constituent, for information. The idea that Congressmen are too busy or are inaccessible to listen to the layman is false. Their offices are open and they want to hear from us. We may not be able to secure time with the Congressmen themselves, but their staffs are willing and able to understand and record our concerns. The statement that our representatives want to hear from us is not strong enough, however. I get the impression that because of all the various demands on their time, if we do not do our part to exercise our voice, our representatives may simply not ever understand what is important to us. Simply put, if we do not act as a voice, it is possible no one will share our viewpoints and our ideals may not be considered at the time of voting. I feel our representatives are doing their best to understand their constituents. However, with so many priorities and so many groups competing for time and attention, they literally need to be consistently reminded what is important to our community.

Dan Christensen (far right, obviously) is an active member of the Univ. of Rochester SPIE Student Chapter.

It is encouraging that everyone with whom I spoke is supportive of the scientific agenda. It appears that most representatives agree that our nation's ability to technologically compete internationally coupled with our STEM investment will be main drivers in our national economy and stability going into the future. It's a financially murky time in the history of our country. We all agree budget cuts must be made to enter back onto the path of fiscal sustainability. I feel as though my voice was one of reason in the crowd, reminding our officials it is not wise to cut the engines off of the airplane when it is overweight.