URI Goes to Capitol Hill to Advocate for Undergraduate Research

Dr. Anne Boettcher, Director of Undergraduate Research Institute and Honors Program

Capital Hill

Embry-Riddle's Undergraduate Research Institute (URI) promotes research, scholarly, and creative activities at the undergraduate level. By enhancing critical thinking, problem solving, and communication skills, URI helps to prepare Embry-Riddle students for their careers and lives after graduation. As a whole, URI provides more than $100,000 annually in funding for student research and development, thus presenting thousands of ERAU students with valuable experience developing and presenting their own passion-fueled research.

This is why Dr. Anne Boettcher, Director of URI and Honors Programs at Embry-Riddle's Prescott campus, recently visited Washington D.C. to speak with government lawmakers. There, she advocated for undergraduate research, and spoke to the importance and impact that undergraduate research initiatives have at Embry-Riddle.

Dr. Anne BoettcherLast month, I visited Washington, DC, as part of my new leadership position with the Council on Undergraduate Research.  I was visiting the organization’s national office, but I also took advantage of the trip to go to Capitol Hill and meet with staff in offices important to Embry Riddle Aeronautic University as well as federal support for undergraduate research more broadly.  Anyone who has read the news from Washington, D.C. recently knows that there is a lot of drama at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.  The Trump White House has certainly shaken things up, and elected lawmakers on Capitol Hill are still figuring out how to work with (or against) President Trump while navigating the complicated politics that are in the House and Senate. 

Let me say that while I was a little nervous as I headed to the buildings that surround the Capitol for my full afternoon of meetings, I ended up thoroughly enjoying myself and felt that my stories about undergraduate research and the work being done at ERAU were really heard.  The afternoon included Democrats, Republicans, tunnels, trains, confiscated snacks, and navigating throngs of reporters. And, as a resident of Arizona, I was directly affected by this particular day’s drama. 

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has been a strong supporter of undergraduate research for years.  From her seat on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, she has successfully fought to include the strategy in policies that affect research investments within the federal agencies. She has been honored by CUR for this work, and I was excited to visit with her staff.  While I thought that her staffer would know about undergraduate research based on their boss’s record, it turns out that he had his own robust undergraduate research experience in college.  That was so encouraging to hear!  But, since the gentleman was a new staffer, we (I was joined by CUR’s government relations consultant) had to explain to him what his boss had achieved on undergraduate research policy and what we might hope she does in the future.  (The Higher Education Act is going to be revised soon, and CUR would like to see some stronger support for undergraduate research in that law.) I also told some stories about students I have known and worked with to illustrate how transformative the experience of undergraduate research can be.  Collaboration, scientific discovery, critical thinking, problem-solving and innovation in action is what a postsecondary experience should be all about, after all.  These stories were highlights of every meeting.

I then went to visit with Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who represents the Daytona ERAU campus.  He also happens to sit on the Senate Appropriations Committee and Congress is currently debating how much money to invest in the National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, the Department of Education and every other federal agency important to the research enterprise.  As a fiscal conservative, he is not an easy touch for increased federal investments, but he does value investments in scientific endeavors.  Plus, you don’t get anything if you don’t ask.  So, my colleague and I asked.  The response wasn’t a yes.  But, it wasn’t really a no.  Diplomacy in action.  I also invited the staff I met with, his colleagues in the senator’s Florida office and the senator himself to visit the Daytona campus.  Hopefully, someone will come.

I spent a lot of time in Senator Richard Shelby’s (R-AL) office.  The day was a busy one, and we watched staff hurry about and try to tend to their visitors in a timely manner.  My colleague noted why it makes sense that Senate offices are pretty much always busy.  Every state has two senators - New York has two senators; so does Alaska.  That means the phone rings in the New York senate offices a lot more often as there is a higher population there.  Alabama is a big state with a lot of people, and about ten other people were in the waiting area with us.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have as much time with the staff as we would have liked, but Senator Shelby is a convert to the importance of research and science to the country’s economy, and he certainly is supportive of ERAU’s work and mission, so there was much nodding during the meeting on both sides of the table. 

After our quick conversation, the Senator’s team was kind enough to offer an escort to our next meeting, since it was on the other side of the Capitol (Senate offices are on one side of the Capitol, the House offices are on the other).  Here’s where the tunnels, trains, confiscated snacks, and reporters come in.  There are tunnels that run all over the place on the Hill, although an escort is required for some of them.  We quickly walked (I had been warned to wear comfortable shoes, and I was sure glad I did!) through the tunnels alongside our escort until we came to a train that runs from the Senate office buildings to the Capitol.  Senators take it to get to and from the Senate chamber.  Guess who was on our train?  Our very own Senator John McCain (R-AZ).  Given his blunt nature, he is followed around by reporters all the time.  I thought about waving to him as I tried to walk around the throng of reporters that surrounded him as we got off the train, but figured he would have thought I wanted to ask a probing question.  Plus, my colleague’s cellphone was loudly announcing breaking news about Senator Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) decision to not run for re-election.  So, he was probably thinking about that. 

After all of that, we were about three minutes late for our last meeting of the day in the office of Congressman Paul Gosar (R-AZ).  He represents ERAU, and I was excited to talk about our students, their work and the exciting every day happenings on campus.  The staffer I met has a Master’s degree in Homeland Security, so he was very interested in what I shared.  Again, I relayed compelling stories about faculty and students who are engaged in undergraduate research on campus.  I also invited him to see the work and meet the students for himself.  I hope that will happen.

After all of the meetings and walking and waiting and talking, my colleague and I jumped in a cab to head back to CUR’s office.  As we were re-hashing the day and the meetings, we saw yet another gaggle of reporters who were surrounding someone.  As we were stopped at a light alongside the Capitol, we saw who they were hounding. It was Senator Flake and his wife.  History in action!

All in all, it was an exhilarating and rewarding day. It was a great reminder of the important work that we are doing here at ERAU and how valuable advocacy is to our school and organizations like CUR.  I would recommend visiting with elected representatives to everybody who has a concern, story, request or perspective to share. After all, they work for us.

Anne Boettcher, Ph.D.
Undergraduate Research Institute and Honors Program

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Anne Boettcher, Ph.D.
Undergraduate Research Institute and Honors Program Director

Katie Greene
Assistant Director, Honors Program
Director of Academic Advising, COAS & CSI

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