Engineering News Winter 2015
Is There an Engineer in the House?
Of the 535 legislators serving in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, how many do you think hold an engineering degree? Think again; it’s six. A scary thought when you consider the degree to which technology drives our world. But Mahantesh Hiremath, deployment subsystems manager for Space Systems Loral (SSL), located in Palo Alto, California, and lecturer in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, says we have no reason to fear. Our representatives are well supported by bright and tireless staffers and a corps of Fellows from various engineering professional societies who are selected annually to lend their expertise.
Hiremath spent a year on Capitol Hill (September 2013 through August 2014) as ASME Congressional Fellow and Technical Advisor to the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Selected from a pool of highly qualified (all Ph.D.) candidates through a competitive nationwide process, he was the only one chosen who is still actively working (most were from academia). ASME and SSL split the cost of his salary for the year.
An intensive three-week orientation prepared the Fellows to jump right in as productive team members, and Hiremath immediately found himself assisting the Energy and Environment Subcommittee: preparing for hearings, writing position papers and briefing notes, studying and documenting critical issues, drafting legislation, and calling on his extensive network of ASME industrial experts for background information and as key witnesses for committee hearings, particularly in the areas of carbon capture and sequestration, compressed air energy storage, and fourth generation nuclear reactors.
"In Silicon Valley we work with lots of smart people; it was very encouraging to see that Washington is so full of smart people, too. It was not unusual to see Nobel Laureates sitting with legal staffers making a case for funding for research going on in the national labs. I learned it is critical that scientists and technologists are able to articulate the value of their research effectively so that policy makers can make good decisions on society’s behalf," he said.
"Having observed this world from such a close vantage point, it was clear to see the importance of involving engineers in the policy world. Imagine if we engineers had better insight into the thought process of our legislators who are concerned with consumer safety and whether a product is beneficial to society in general. We need to encourage our students to consider taking a minor in public policy as an alternative to economics or business; being conversant in the policy-making world would be invaluable to their future and society as well. We should also encourage them to become involved in their professional societies—teach them to volunteer, to earn their credentials, to get involved."
Visit asme.org to learn more about the Congressional Fellowship Program.