Doris Lewis is a Professor of Chemistry Emerita – Suffolk University. For the past twenty years, Doris has volunteered as Chair of the Government Relations Committee.
In this Member Volunteer Spotlight, learn more how Doris became involved in volunteering as part of the Government Relations Committee, opportunities for mentorship, and advice to others interested in volunteering with Government Relations.
How did you become involved in this volunteer opportunity / position (including details regarding application / interview process)?
In 1999 as NESACS chair-elect I was serving as program chair; with the encouragement of ACS to involve the section in government affairs I organized a monthly meeting program on that theme. I invited the young congressman Michael Capuano and the chair of the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Education David Magnani. Having no idea whether either of them would actually show up, I created a panel by also inviting a national ACS staff member on government affairs. As luck would have it there was a snowstorm that night. The ACS representative was not able to make it in from Washington DC, but both Capuano and Magnani attended and conducted a spirited discussion on science education. Rep. Capuano had children in the Somerville schools and was passionate in his advocacy, and Senator Magnani added his perspective on the state level. Along with other activities that year, the event gained NESACS the President’s Award for Local Section Government Affairs in 2000, the year I was Section chair. Following that I was invited to join the ACS national Committee on Chemistry and Public Affairs. At the time I was chair of my chemistry department as well as Section chair and councilor, and I would have thought that an additional activity was last thing I needed. Yet to my surprise, at a time when I thought my professional activities were well established, I gained a whole new skill set. I regularly attended the ACS Summit on Capitol Hill and received training from ACS on how to prepare for and conduct a congressional visit. It has been my pleasure in the years since to build on that experience and to share those skills with others as chair of the NESACS Legislative Relations Committee.
For this volunteer opportunity / position did you have a mentor and/or do you serve as a mentor to other participants in this program?
My membership on the ACS CCPA gave me valuable training; we first were given policy updates and then went to Capitol Hill offices in small groups from ACS leadership who collaborated in interacting with legislators and their staff at the meetings. At first our NESACS Legislative Relations Committee was composed of senior ACS members with prior experience in interacting with legislators, including Mike Strem, head of Strem Chemicals, and Don Rickter. As younger chemists became interested in science policy our policy outreach became energized; when we visited Rep. Capuano’s office younger chemists were the major part of our delegation. When we received the President’s Award for Local Section Government Affairs at the national ACS meeting in Chicago in 2018, NSYCC rep Catie Rawlins was at my side. Then I was invited by the NSYCC to participate in a panel on alternative careers, focusing on science policy careers. Our CCPA meetings at ACS headquarters had featured presentations by our ACS policy fellows on their experiences, so I was able to use their vitas as exciting examples of how a fellowship could open doors to policy-based careers. Now, after years of such presentations, I can use as my examples former NSYCC members who now hold important policy positions, including at DOE, nonprofits, and pharma. It’s a continuing delight to follow the exciting policy careers of these young scientists. Harvard professor Heidi Vollmer-Snarr has recently taken mentorship to a new level by incorporating Congressional visits by Harvard students into their research program.
What has been the most rewarding / exciting component of this volunteer opportunity / position?
For some time now it has been obvious that supporting science on every level is critical. Supporting science policy by interacting with legislators has been challenging and unfailingly interesting. Sharing the advocacy skills, I learned from ACS with others has been especially rewarding.
What advice would you give to other individuals considering this volunteer opportunity / position?
I would encourage any ACS member who is interested in becoming involved in science policy advocacy to do so. The ACS policy advocacy page https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/policy.html offers a wealth of information; joining Act4Chemistry is a simple first step. Or join your fellow scientists in visiting local Congressional offices. You may be surprised at the reception you receive as a scientist and constituent!