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Cornell University

Science Policy Bootcamp: From Concept to Conclusion

The interdisciplinary service-learning course aims to show students the myriad opportunities and desperate need for scientists to participate in public policy making. The unique approach will help train a generation of scientists who are both passionate about and effective in engaging policy makers to solve some of our biggest problems including energy, climate change, health care, and education. BME 4440: Science Policy: From Concept to Conclusion (3cr.) was developed by the BEST Program co-Principal Investigator Chris Schaffer and postdoctoral alumna and BEST mentor Catharine Young with the help of an Engaged Cornell Faculty Fellowship

The Process

Scientists and engineers in this course learn about the policymaking process through active research and advocacy work. Some class time is devoted to broadening student perspectives on science policy through lectures by Cornell faculty and visiting government officials, group discussions of reading assignments, and other activities.

The primary activity of the course, however, is a real policy-making exercise that builds over the course of the full semester. Small student teams identify a key science policy issue, thoroughly research the issue, formulate a detailed plan to address the issue, and implement their plan for solving the problem toward the end of the term.

Included are opportunities to meet with local, state, and federal lawmakers and government officials to try to advance policy ideas, including visits to Albany, NY or Washington, DC.


Examples include producing technical reports and analysis, drafting legislation, commenting on Federal or State rulemaking, writing legal briefs to support legal action, launching public outreach campaigns, or raising press awareness of an issue.

Read the Code4Kids success story. Read the op-ed by the anaerobic digester team. Read more.

Jimmy O'Dea was awarded the AAAS Congressional Fellowship after changing open access policy at Cornell along with Michelle Delco and Mischa Olson

After co-developing the SciPol Bootcamp course as a postdoc, Catharine (Clark) Young was awarded a AAAS DOD Science & Technology Policy Fellowship and selected as a TED Global Fellow where she presented her idea for vaccine delivery in developing countries, the focus of a non-profit she founded

Julia Mundy was selected for the AAAS STEM Education Policy Fellowship and is now a postdoc at UCBerkeley

Alex Coots was selected to undertake a quantitative risk and benefit assessment of gain of function experiments in pathogens with pandemic potential with a company, Gryphon Scientific

Chelsea Gregg was awarded the prestigious AIMBE Scholarship, placed in the Center for Devices and Radiological Health at the FDA

Other Cornell Science Policy Courses

NTRES 4300 - Environmental Policy Processes  Spring. (3 cr.) Letter grades only. Course fee: approximately $700 for lodging and use of facilities at the Wolpe Cornell Center in Washington, D.C. Permission of instructor required. Enrollment limited to: junior, senior, or grad student standing; admission by special application process only. Applications available by or at Completed applications will be due Oct. 17, 2014. When approved, you will receive a permission code to enroll. Course begins with three required evening sessions in fall semester beginning approximately November 1. You will spend January 5-14, 2015 at the Cornell Center in Washington, D.C. Students also should plan to spend substantial time on independent research, preparation of oral presentations, completion of a major policy brief, and four 2-hour evening sessions in Spring semester. Taught by B. L. Bedford, C. E. Kraft.

This course provides students an intensive field-based exploration of the federal environmental policyprocess and an overview of how policy issues move onto the federal agenda and through the federalpolicy-making process. It focuses on defining environmental policy problems and understanding the interrelated set of phases, actors, institutions, and constraints that typically comprise the policy cycle. Case studies provide in-depth examples and allow students to discuss the policy process with policymakers as guest panelists. Research topic requires conducting several independent interviews with Washington experts, preparation of two short and one long policy brief based on the interviews and additional research, and an oral presentation. 

Outcome 1: Students will be able to define what constitutes an environmental policy issue and describe in-depth the various phases of the typical policy cycle.

Outcome 2: Students will be able to critically discuss and analyze the ways in which significant actors, institutions, and constraints combine and interact to influence policy decisions.

Outcome 3: Students will apply this knowledge to the analysis and discussion of specific case studies involving environmental policy issues.

Outcome 4: Students will gain experience communicating in oral and written formats with variouspolicy actors associated with their selected policy topic and with specific case studies.

Outcome 5: Students will gain fluency with the language of policy analysis and with the legitimate sources on which to base an unbiased environmental policy analysis.

Outcome 6: Students will gain experience in evaluating, synthesizing, and organizing various source materials, including interviews with policy actors, into three policy briefs and an oral and written presentation of a specific environmental policy issue.

NS 6200 - Translational Research and Evidence-based Policy and Practice in Nutrition Spring. (Offered odd alternate years) 2 credits. S-U grades only. Permission of instructor required. Enrollment limited to: graduate students. Taught by P. Stover, P. Brannon, P. Cassano.

This team taught graduate nutrition course addresses the frameworks used in evidenced-based approaches and decision making to set nutrition policy and practice guidelines where emerging and conflicting scientific data are commonplace. The course format is 50% lecture-based with content lectures given by experts in the subject area, and 50% discussion based, with interactive discussions and case-study discussions facilitated by practice and policy guest experts using videoconferencing. 

Outcome 1: Relate and explain how available scientific information is used to develop research that translates basic to applied science, applied science to mechanistic inquiry, evidence-based clinical care, expert committee guidance, and public health policies.

Outcome 2: Evaluate, as a result of this course, translational research approaches and the use of scientific evidence to inform policy making at the national and international levels.

SEA 3790 - Ocean Science and Public Policy (HA)      Fall, spring, summer. 3 credits. Letter grades only. Corequisites required. Refer to SEA Semester program descriptions at Offered in Woods Hole, MA. Staff.

Culture, history, political systems and science can shape ocean policy. Practice current strategies to build, analyze, and communicate about diverse policy issues. Examine the power, use and limitations of science and the scientist’s voice in determining ocean policy. 

Outcome 1: Students will review literature addressing the scientific dimensions of ocean policy.

Outcome 2: Will write a paper analyzing a contemporary public debate over science policy.

Outcome 3: Students research and prepare a policy brief for addressing a contemporary coastal or ocean topic.

Outcome 4: Students will make an oral presentation and defense of their policy brief in a mock public forum.