Skip to main content
Cornell University


Monday, June 19, 2017
Science Policy Course Outcomes

BME 4440: Science Policy, from Concept to Conclusion is a course intentionally designed by professor Chris Schaffer to provide students with an immersive experience into the fast-paced and reactive nature of science policy. The course includes weekly discussions centered on policy changes in the news and the implications for such changes all with a scientist’s perspective, technical report writing, drafting of memos and op-eds, and mock advocacy case studies. This year, students paired up and worked on four different science policy projects that they identified as pressing issues at either the local, state or federal level.

Each of the policy projects were vetted by expert policy makers including Eric Rosario, prior acting mayor of Ithaca, and Mark Bayer, former Chief of Staff for U.S. Senator Ed Markey. As valuable feedback was gained, students generated multiple iterations in the form of strategy documents, talking points, and technical reports. At the end of the semester each project culminated in a final op-ed document with the expectation of “going live” and publishing with the appropriate media outlet.

The 2017 cohort of students produced a diverse spectrum of op-eds.

One team explored the “valley of death” in commercialization of university technology. This phrase is often used to describe the numerous research projects that have the potential for commercial licensing but never make it to market. The group wrote about the large number of patents and ideas generated at universities like Cornell that fail to become market investments, pinpointing an increase in gap funding as an attractive solution to this widening valley. READ THE OP-ED here.

Another team focused on the obfuscating regulatory structure set in place for evaluating the safety of genetically modified foods or GMOs. After expanding on the long-standing history of different federal regulatory agencies playing a role in GMO regulation, they proposed an “integrated one-stop-shop” policy for future regulation of biotechnology for our food. READ THE OP-ED here

The third topic was concerned with waste management, and the effective use of landfills. The team identified a lack of awareness as to what is deemed compostable or recyclable as a significant barrier to reducing the use of landfills. The team developed a community outreach approach to sharing this information with others to improve recycling and composting efficiency.

The final team emphasized the importance of agricultural extension programs, which are science outreach programs put in place with the goal of disseminating the useful research scientists conduct on agriculture directly to farmers. This advantageous information is then used by farmers to promote healthier and higher yielding crops. However, the current policy is shaped such that regional extension offices are prioritized over county offices with what little money being allocated for extension, while the county offices often have stronger ties with local farmers. In order to change this, the group called for local support of county law 224, which reprioritizes county office funding to ensure greater community engagement.

Overall, groups generated persuasive policy op-eds and developed their science communication and writing skills. Life science students are encouraged to take this class if they want to experience what it is like working on Capitol Hill, as each class is infused with the hustle and bustle of D.C's political climate.

by BESTie Sabrina Solouki