Building Bridges: From Bioengineering to Science Policy

August 30, 2022 | ,  

A photo of Stephen Cutie, PhD, a 2022 CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellow with the title of his blog post and CCST logo on a blue background

Stephen Cutie, PhD is a 2022 CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellow placed with the Office of Senator Richard Pan. He earned his PhD in Bioengineering from UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley studying the hormonal switches that regulate heart regeneration across evolution and development. From Miami, Florida, Stephen earned his BS in Biology from the University of Miami.


What did you research in grad school and what brought you to science policy and communication?

In grad school, I studied how hormones control heart regeneration across both evolution and development—why do we lose our ability to repair our heart after birth, while other animals like newts retain theirs? But the seeds of my science policy interests were sewn long before that.

Like many Cuban Americans in Miami, I came from a more conservative family with strong and diverse political opinions. Political debates were never too far away, especially given the unsubtle political overtones of stories I grew up with, like Last Airbender, Star Wars, and Star Trek: TNG.

Then in high school and college I discovered broader flavor of politics more aligned with my ideals. So when I matriculated to UCSF and Berkeley, I quickly got involved with our awesome student-run science policy groups; through which I ultimately learned about CCST!

Long story short: I’ve always been a bit of a political sojourner, but what’s guided me throughout has been a hunger for dialectic debate and a persistent desire to build bridges and speak truth to power.

 

Learn More: Discover how our CCST S&T Policy Fellows make a difference in California’s policy arena and learn how to apply on our Fellows page.

 

Where are you placed for your fellowship and what are some of the top issues you’re working on?

I’m working for Senator Richard Pan this year, which is monumentally cool because he’s a practicing physician. I’m especially jazzed by that because he embodies my core belief that our elected government should reflect the crazy, messy smorgasbord of “We The People”—that means more teachers, farmers, truckers, tradespeople, doctors, artists, and scientists running for office!

As for the issues: surveillance of pathogenic viruses is a priority for Senator Pan this year. California has world-class private, public, and academic viral surveillance labs. Senator Pan wants to optimize their communication with California’s public health teams so we can rapidly-identify new viral threats in the future. Knowledge is power: the sooner we can clock new viruses, the more time, money, and lives we’ll save.

 

A photo collage of the 5 CCST Senate Fellows with Senator Toni Atkins and CCST logo
Stephen (2nd from left) was recognized along with his other Senate-placed 2022 CCST S&T Policy Fellows on the Senate floor by Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins—who published a statement congratulating and thanking the Fellows—with an introduction of Stephen by Senator Richard Pan.

 

What was your favorite part of CCST’s monthlong training program before placement?

My favorite part of CCST boot camp was definitely our “There Ought to be a Law” assignment.

We were tasked with researching and advocating a particular policy proposal as if it was a bill we were staffing. My issue was Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), and—my, oh my—it was a cool issue to deep-dive into! I learned how RCV was one of those pro-democracy reforms with a real fighting chance of breaking through instances of polarization, corruption, or dysfunction. It can make elections more diverse and competitive by transferring power from the 2-party duopoly directly to us voters. Especially for someone like me who cares about building bridges and holding powerful people accountable, RCV is a powerful tool to make our government both more functional and more reflective of all the beautiful, messy diversity of “We The People.”

 

Photo of CCST S&T Policy Senate Fellows with CCST Leadership on Senate stairs
Stephen, his 2022 Senate Fellow colleagues, and CCST leaders including CEO Amber Mace, Deputy Director Sarah Brady, and Fellows Program Manager Renée Cashmere pose on the Capitol steps after the Senate recognition.

 

How have you adapted to hybrid work and what are some useful ways you’ve found to set yourself up for success?

This might sound silly, but I honestly think dressing for success can work wonders. Crafting your own professional “uniform” and donning it whether you work in-person or at-home doesn’t just keep your head in the game; it lends you confidence and character, too. (If it works for superheroes, it should also work for you.)

In my case, after weeks of thrifting, I invented an outfit that I hoped would stand out without making a scene: vibrant and unique, yet modest and professional.

A warm brown blazer and pants, over a deep blue button-down shirt, all cinched together with a nerdy red tie—that’s my uniform most days, no matter where work happens.

 

How do I know if science policy is right for me? What are some resources I could go to?

  • Are you open-minded, and do you believe in meeting people where they are?
  • Do you consider yourself patriotic, and care more about what unites us than what divides us?
  • Do you believe in leading with the power of your example, not the example of your power?

If you’re a scientist who answered yes to any of these, you could probably do genuine good in science policy. Besides CCST and the many other Fellowship opportunities listed at the bottom of the Fellows page, some other excellent science policy resources include the National Science Policy Network (NSPN), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Initiative for Maximizing Student Diversity/Development (IMSD), 500 Women Scientists, 500 Queer Scientists, and your university’s science policy group.

 

What is your favorite part of Sacramento so far?

I love how Sac has a little bit of everything!

Outdoorsy folks can enjoy gorgeous hiking trails, whitewater rafting, and all manner of rugged activities no more than 30 minutes away.

City-slickers and fellow denizens of the night have access to a vibrant downtown nightlife, including watering holes like Badlands and silent disco at LowBrau.

For street food fans and county fair enjoyers like myself, Cal Expo is literally a stone’s throw from downtown—and the Midtown Farmers Market takes over downtown every Saturday morning. Suffice it to say, no matter how niche your interests, you’ll find a place in Sacramento!

 


About the CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellowship

The CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellows program trains scientific thinkers to be policy-savvy, while helping equip California’s decision makers with science-savvy staff. The program was established in 2009 with funds from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and other generous friends. Discover how our CCST S&T Policy Fellows make a difference in California’s policy arena and learn how to apply at ccst.us/ccst-science-fellows-program.

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