Samantha Rawlins

Samantha Rawlins is participating in the 12-week Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program in Washington, D.C.

Michael Mercier | UAH

Samantha Rawlins, a doctoral candidate in Aerospace Systems Engineering at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), is participating in the Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship Program in Washington, D.C.

The fellowship provides 12 weeks of full-time hands-on training and education at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) for early career individuals. Participants learn about science and technology policy and the role that scientists and engineers play in advising the nation. The fellowship offers an opportunity to obtain essential skills and knowledge needed to work in science policy at the federal, state or local levels.

"I'm definitely most looking forward to the hands-on experience that physically being in D.C., working with the NAS Space Studies Board, will grant me," says Rawlins, who is advised by Dr. Dale Thomas, UAH professor and eminent scholar in systems engineering and the director of the Alabama Space Grant Consortium.

Mirzayan applicants from around the world are assigned a mentor and learn the world of science and technology policy. An immersive experience, the program is designed to broaden fellows’ appreciation of employment opportunities outside academia and leave them with both a firm grasp of the important and dynamic role of science and technology in decision-making and a better understanding of the role that they can play in strengthening the science and technology enterprise for the betterment of mankind.

"I've actually previously tried self-teaching myself about space policy through online training programs like the one The Planetary Society offers, but nothing can beat physically being there in the room where it happens," Rawlins says.

A Los Angeles, Calif., native, Rawlins’ research topic is applying systems engineering to nuclear thermal propulsion, a technology under study for use in future missions to Mars. She says she was shocked when she learned she’d been accepted.

"I knew that they generally accept less than 10 percent of applicants and, though I personally believed that I would be the best fit for this fellowship, I knew that there were plenty of others who felt the same," Rawlins says.

While she was an intern at the Propulsion Academy at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Rawlins found out about the Mirzayan Fellowship from an alumnus of both programs.

"I'm not entirely sure whether I'll end up going into science policy or not. I'm hoping the fellowship will help me decide that!" Rawlins says. "I do know that, especially in the aerospace engineering field, science and policy are extremely closely knit. No matter what, knowing how to communicate with the ultimate customer is a crucial skill I know will be useful in the future."