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Three MIT students met personally with two members of Congress and aides to six others during a whirlwind visit to Capitol Hill last week to solicit support for increased support for basic science research.
"The visits were cool because for the first time I felt like part of the democratic process," said Richa Shyam, a junior in biology. Added Christopher Salthouse (SB 1999), a graduate student in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), "it was a great experience to get exposure to the politics of funding."
Sandra M. Pae, a sophomore in EECS, said,"It really afforded us a chance to see how respected MIT students are on the national scale. When at school, we're surrounded by fellow students, so we're not likely to feel special at all. But when we were in Washington and talking to Congressmen, we felt an immense respect for our opinion not only as constituents of these Congressmen, but also as MIT students and members of the scientific community. Some of them took time out of their immensely busy schedules and made time for students like us. It was flattering to meet them and to have them listen to our cause. It was a great experience!"
The students arrived on April 4 and participated in the Science, Engineering and Technology Congressional Visit Day, during which they heard presentations from the Clinton administration, including representatives from the the National Science Foundation and the Departments of Defense and Energy, all major funding agencies for research universities including MIT. Dr. Neal Lane, science advisor to President Clinton, also conducted a briefing.
The next day, they discussed the issues with Reps. Joseph Moakley and James McGovern and posed for a photo with Rep. Michael Capuano (all of Massachusetts). They also met with aides to Reps. William Coyne (D-PA), William Delahunt (D-MA), Vito Fossella (R-NY), Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) and Richard Neal (D-MA).
"We were told by everyone we spoke to that we were 'preaching to the choir,'" said Ms. Shyam. "It was really nice to see so much support for science and technology, especially among members of the Massachusetts delegation."
Ms. Shyam has a UROP position on an AIDS research project at Harvard Medical School and volunteers at Imani Village at the Children's AIDS Project House in Mattapan. "I see my UROP experiences as the most important and valuable part of my education at MIT, so it was important to me to tell that to the Congress members I met," she said.
Mr. Salthouse did research at the Media Laboratory under Professor Neil Gershenfeld as a freshman and later did a UROP with Professor Steven Leeb that formed the basis for his thesis. "Both developed their labs with NIH funding," he noted.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on April 12, 2000.