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Hill Climbers: Learning to Speak Science, Policy

Working as an aide for a member of the European Union, Karly Schledwitz celebrated the morning after the 2008 presidential elections with a truly American breakfast: popcorn, crepes and brownies.

“One of the Dutch members was hosting an American-style breakfast, or so they thought anyway,” Schledwitz, 23, said with a laugh. “But it was my favorite moment abroad. These Europeans were crying about their excitement for Obama’s victory. They thought the fact that I got to participate, and it was the first election that I got to participate in, was really moving.”

Schledwitz, who was recently promoted to deputy communications director for the House Science and Technology Committee, got her political kick-start while studying abroad in Brussels during the fall of 2008. She worked for a Finnish member of the European Parliament drafting articles and working on the English portions of a website, which primarily pertained to the European perspective on the presidential elections.

“Brussels is similar to Washington in that everyone is interested in current affairs and global issues,” Schledwitz said. “It’s a very international, political city.”

But the differences between Parliament and Congress were just as palpable as their similarities. Schledwitz said that because there are a slew of political parties, there is more collaboration between groups than in a two-party system.

“They’re also representing countries rather than states, so there’s all the federal laws and customs that come into play when you’re trying to establish EU-wide standards,” Schledwitz said. “It can sometimes be more challenging than the difference between Tennessee and New Jersey.”

The Memphis native became involved in politics during her adolescence, from running for class office in high school to joining the College Democrats in college. Schledwitz attributes her intense interest in the subject to her childhood: “I grew up in a political family where my household was always holding fundraisers and going to rallies.”

After attending a D.C. leadership conference during high school where they simulated campaigning and whipping votes for a bill, Schledwitz set Capitol Hill on her horizons. The gigs that eventually brought her to Washington include college internships at the Democratic Leadership Council, the Center for American Progress and APCO Worldwide.

The Furman University alumna further cemented her future position on the Hill by pursuing a double major in communication studies and political science. Soon after graduation in June 2009, Schledwitz started as an intern with the House Science and Technology Committee, but she was promoted to staff assistant a few weeks later. Although she was mainly responsible for coordinating interns and managing the front office, Schledwitz also assisted the press team.

“I’ve been interested in the intersection of communication and politics for a long time,” Schledwitz said. “I love that intersection, especially with some policy issues that are hard to understand. It gives me a challenge.”

The oil spill has become an increasingly important issue for the committee, which recently held hearings on cleanup research and deepwater drilling technology. Another important issue was the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act, which the Members and staff have been working on for several years.

It was during this time that Schledwitz developed a practice of educating herself on challenging policy issues. Her routine includes sitting down with the professional legislative staff, reading what has been previously written about the subject and looking over Congressional Research Service reports. Her fulfillment of multiple roles as staff assistant ultimately led to her promotion last week.

“When I was promoted, I felt honored that the opportunity had presented itself to me,” Schledwitz said. She added: “And I was of course very excited.”

In her new role, Schledwitz is now responsible for writing press releases, interacting with the media and scheduling press conferences. It has been particularly challenging in the past week, since the only other staff member in the press office is on maternity leave. Relying on fellow staffers, such as Chief of Staff Louis Finkel, as mentors has helped the fresh-faced deputy communications director to stay above water.

“While I may be young for this position, they’ve all been really helpful and great,” Schledwitz said. “I just feel really fortunate.”

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