Geophysics graduate student Oliver Stephenson, who will graduate next month, will travel to Washington, D.C., in September on a William L. Fisher Congressional Geoscience Fellowship to help policymakers base their decisions on solid scientific data.
The fellowship lasts for one year, and Stephenson intends to use this opportunity to help launch a career in science policy, working with government officials to ensure science informs decision-making. He plans to use the scientific training he received at Caltech to try to make the world a better place in the most direct way possible.
“I’ve always been interested in connecting with people and having a positive impact on the world,” Stephenson says. “But the pandemic has shown me how science can and should be used to make the best decisions, and what happens when science isn’t used. You see the huge inequalities in outcomes.”
A geophysicist by training, Stephenson’s main areas of science policy interest are climate change mitigation, natural hazard preparedness and response, and how artificial intelligence (AI) will shape society.
Although AI might seem out of left field for a geophysicist, Stephenson took a course in 2019 called CMS270 – Advanced Topics in Computing and Mathematical Sciences, which connected scientists with AI experts. In the course, Stephenson helped develop a method for mapping collapsed buildings after natural disasters. The class was created by Richard Murray, Thomas E. and Doris Everhart Professor of Control Systems and Dynamics and Bioengineering and William K. Bowes Jr. Executive Chair in the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering; and Eric Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt Futures and former executive chairman of Alphabet Inc.
Once in Washington, Stephenson will meet with United States Senators, Representatives and others. After receiving internship offers, he selects one and gets to work, either in a legislator’s office or on a committee assigned to work on a specific issue. Stephenson says he hopes to spend the next year learning how Congress works and how it can positively impact the world by working with Congress leaders.
“In government, you need people with their hearts in the right place, people who are held accountable, and people who have the best information,” Stephenson said. “I want to make sure they have that information.”
Funding for the scholarship is provided by an endowment established by the AGI Foundation to honor William L. Fisher, Leonidas T. Barrow Centennial Professor and Chair Emeritus of Mineral Resources at the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin. More information can be found on the American Geosciences Institute website.