Emily Berry, PhD, and Gabriella Nepomuceno, PhD, are members of the 2016 Class of CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellows.
Berry received her PhD in Cell Biology from UC San Francisco and conducted her thesis research at the Gladstone Institutes, where she studied how factors important during normal heart development can be leveraged to improve heart function after heart attack. Berry’s fellowship placement was with the Office of Assemblymember Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova), where she was subsequently hired as a Legislative Aide.
Nepomuceno received her PhD in Chemistry from UC Davis, where she designed and synthesized chemical probes to study cell division in bacteria. Her fellowship placement was with the Assembly Business and Professions Committee under Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord), and continued under Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield). Nepomuceno is currently an analyst for Strategic Program Development with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) and DTSC’s liaison to the Independent Review Panel.
November 2015 marked the beginning of a transformative year for the 2016 Class of CCST Science & Technology Policy Fellows. We came as scientists and engineers who were trained in the life, physical, or social sciences — ready to leverage the skills we had honed, in a world so different from the one we had come from.
We were trained at Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, Stanford, University of Michigan, University of Washington, and the University of California at Davis, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz — where we spent our time facing the unknown, unlocking the world’s mysteries through research, and fostered a hunger to always learn more. As avid board gamers, trivia whizzes, runners, and foodies, we stepped foot in the CCST offices on the first day of “policy boot camp” as experts in our scientific fields and passion pursuits.
We now braced ourselves to be the new kids on the block, some of us reeling in anticipation, anxiety, exhilaration and possibilities: What did I just sign up for? Can I do this?
Four weeks of boot camp pulled us into the ecosystem of the California State Capitol — aka “The Building” — where the living, breathing body of the State Legislature impacts the lives of all Californians. We learned how every law begins with an idea, often created from the passionate stories of California’s denizens; and as that bill moves through the legislative process, it’s transformed by Senators, Assemblymembers, and their tireless staff. And here we were, about to become those very staffers!
Former Science Fellows stepped into mentoring roles throughout our training and prepped us for what to expect over the next several months — tempering our worries about “breaking California” with some rookie mistake. We learned how to be political insiders. We refined our interview skills, hung up our lab coats and cut the strings on each other’s new suits. Now we were ready to learn how to advocate for, analyze, and craft bills.
When our policy boot camp concluded, the ten of us interviewed with more than 30 offices between the Senate and Assembly. And with help from the wisdom and intuition of CCST and the Legislature’s staff, we found homes in our placement offices in the California State Legislature.
As New Year’s Day rolled past, the Legislative Session picked up quickly. Suddenly, we were fielding phone calls (trying to remember how to use a land line), taking meetings, and introducing bills.
In committee-land, Gabby had already inherited a joint informational hearing and three bills that were to be voted on during the second week of January. Emily was researching new bill ideas in a personal office, and John began learning all there is to know about Daylight Saving Time — including the history, the Federal and State policies that govern it, and the potential effects on public health, energy consumption, and even public safety.
Fortunately, our increasingly busy weeks were capped by check-ins with CCST staff and seminars — where we got to meet the amazing leaders in charge of California’s state agencies, from cabinet secretaries to department directors.
Fun meeting this year's Science & Technology Fellows! Love this program to bring science and policy together pic.twitter.com/qMw0NxKlrA
— Karen Ross (@agsecross) July 8, 2016
Several field trips throughout the year also granted us opportunities as a group and as individuals, to experience science policy outside of the Capitol. During training boot camp, we toured the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta with the U.S. Geological Survey. In March, John, Sarah, and Dan trekked up to the Sierras for the annual snow survey conducted by the California Department of Water Resources, which was highly topical during California’s fifth consecutive year of drought. Matt got to view the state’s water policies from a different perspective — a helicopter flight over the Hoover Dam and a tour of the inner workings of one of the largest water projects in U.S. history.
Esha, on the other hand, donned a hard hat and tagged along with her office to visit the construction of the Golden 1 Center, the new energy-efficient arena of the Sacramento Kings basketball team!
July arrived in a blink, and Summer Recess offered a reprieve from the hectic Capitol life. Legislators returned to their districts, and staff let out a collective sigh of relief, as the stress and excitement of racing to beat state constitutional deadlines began to wane.
We were craving a break from city life, and what better place to find rest and relaxation than the fresh mountain air of Lake Tahoe? An afternoon of Oreos, zip lining, and swimming (or Erin’s strategy of treating herself to a well-deserved massage) led us into our professional development retreat, organized by CCST to prepare us for the upcoming challenge: the proverbial “next steps” for life after our CCST fellowship. We spent the following day asking each other “What Color is Your Parachute?” and practicing interview techniques… which eventually devolved in to laughs around the lodge, debating how to cast our friends and CCST staff as “Game of Thrones” characters.
We returned to Sacramento to face the end-of-session frenzy that is August, which was brightened by a wonderful moment: we were recognized during the Senate and Assembly Floor Sessions. The 2016 Class of CCST Science Fellows received framed resolutions commemorating our contributions to the State of California this year, a humbling and happy moment.
Then, our first farewells took place. Erin left for Washington DC to makes waves, successfully securing a AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship with the National Institutes of Health. Later on, Diana moved back to her familiar grad school stomping grounds — the Bay Area — but with new insights and responsibility staffing her assemblymember’s district office.
In the waning months of our fellowship year in The Building, work continued on informational and oversight hearings, both in the Capitol and in member districts. Renita organized and planned four hearings for the Select Committee on Infectious Diseases in High Risk and Disadvantaged Communities — a wonderful accomplishment considering none of us knew a year ago what a Select Committee was or how it worked. Meanwhile, Matt and Dan collaborated to organize a joint informational hearing between the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water and Senate Committee on Environmental Quality.
A year ago, the ten of us sat in a room, unsure of how the fellowship would unfold. We asked ourselves, can I do this? Together we shepherded 40 bills through legislative process, analyzed 79 bills, and helped facilitate 10 Senate appointee confirmations.
Today, we can answer the question of can I do this — with an emphatic, YES.
— Emily Berry and Gabby Nepomuceno
A few fond memories from the 2016 fellowship year. Video edited by and donated by Andrew Turner. California State Legislature session footage is a public service of The California Channel; visit www.calchannel.com.