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Hill Climbers: Scientific Angle

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee can make even the most veteran Hill staffers take a second look. It is a group staffed with not only dedicated public servants but also people of discovery and invention — scientists.

[IMGCAP(1)]Over the past year, the committee has taken on a number of new hires and promotions, just in time as Congress addresses climate change legislation.

In January, Alicia Jackson joined the committee as a majority professional staffer. Jackson, 29, advises the committee on energy and manufacturing issues.

A native of Dayton, Ohio, Jackson is a 2002 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She also attended graduate school at MIT and earned a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering in 2007.

Jackson studied nanotechnology for her doctorate thesis, and over the course of her research, she discovered a whole new class of materials — nanostructured nanoparticles.

“They are gold nanoparticles coated with molecules that can interact with living things,— she said. “The nanoparticles appear to be good at resisting protein absorption and their patterns allow for the control of their assembly.—

How exactly does a scientist come to the Hill, though? As Jackson’s Ph.D. research came to completion, she started to look for ways to pursue science outside the laboratory.

“The day-to-day experience in a lab is pretty tedious,— she said. “You are very focused on the task at hand and there isn’t a whole lot of social interaction.—

Jackson came across a Congressional fellow program sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. AAAS fellows are placed around Congress for a yearlong pairing with Congressional committees to advise on science policy.

Jackson was selected as a 2007-2008 fellow for the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“I wanted to have a broader impact on our world through the development of policies that will encourage the critical scientific and technological developments necessary for solving many energy and environment challenges facing us today,— she said.

Joining Jackson as a new professional staff member to the majority is Kevin Rennert. Rennert, 33, is another scientist who came to the Hill by way of an AAAS Congressional fellowship. Rennert’s job duties include covering climate legislation and vehicle efficiency.

[IMGCAP(2)]A native of Gambier, Ohio, Rennert earned a degree in physics from Grinnell College in 1997. While there, Rennert captained the school’s basketball team.

“We played using a unique high-scoring style,— he said. “It wasn’t like playing for one of the Pac-10 basketball schools, but we actually won the division in my junior year.—

Rennert earned a Ph.D. in atmospheric science from the University of Washington in 2007. For his doctoral thesis, Rennert assessed wintertime atmospheric variability.

“I have always wanted to understand the science policy,— he said. “I wanted to apply a scientific background to help create policy solutions to climate change.—

The committee also recently hired two receptionists who work for both parties on behalf of the entire committee.

Meagan Gins was hired as a receptionist in September. A native of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Gins parlayed her home state in her new job. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) serves as the committee chairman.

Gins’ political involvement stretches back to the 2008 presidential election. After graduating from Bucknell University in 2008, Gins worked around Albuquerque for the Obama campaign.

“It was during the campaign that I really decided that I wanted to continue work in public service,— she said. “I was planning on going to D.C. for the inauguration, and once I arrived I decided to pursue the opportunity.—

After several months interning at a public relations firm, Gins transitioned to Capitol Hill this summer to intern in the office of Rep. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). After finishing up that summer internship, she started at the committee.

Also joining Gins as a committee receptionist is Jake McCook. McCook, 27, was hired in early October. A “dual citizen— of New Mexico and Texas, McCook said he knew he wanted to come to Washington, D.C., after the Obama inauguration.

“It was too cold to move then,— he said. “By July it was too hot in Texas, so I got in my car and drove east.—

McCook is a 2006 graduate of St. Edward’s University. After college, McCook worked for Gov. Bill Richardson (D) in New Mexico, and when the 2008 presidential primaries came into gear, he moved to Iowa for several months on behalf of Richardson’s presidential campaign.

Immediately prior to working on the committee, McCook served as a temporary grass-roots organizer with the Human Rights Campaign.

“I loved it and went out with a bang,— he said. “My last weekend included our national dinner with President [Barack] Obama and the National Equality March.—

Rounding out the list of new additions is Virginia Corless, a current AAAS fellow to the committee.

Corless, 26, graduated from MIT in 2005 with a degree in physics and went on to pursue graduate work outside the United States. Corless earned a Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Cambridge in 2009.

“I had been interested in transitioning from a career in scientific research to one with more of a science policy focus for some time,— she said. “When I received an AAAS fellowship to work in Congress for a year, I couldn’t turn it down!—

Corless’ desire to take her graduate studies to Europe is partially explained by her early background. Corless’ dad was in the National Park Service and moved the family all across the country while she grew up.

“I went to high school right outside of Yosemite National Park,— she said. “One day the school gave us mountain lion warnings on a piece of paper to take home.—

Submit news of hires and promotions on Capitol Hill to Hill Climbers here.

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