Missouri Science and Technology Policy Fellows director and cofounder Rachel Owen is assisted by cofounder Mike Hendricks advisory board member and Missouri Department of Higher Education director Zora Mulligan and cofounder Hallie Thompson

Missouri Science and Technology Policy Fellows director and cofounder Rachel Owen (left) is assisted by cofounder Mike Hendricks (middle left), advisory board member and Missouri Department of Higher Education director Zora Mulligan (middle right), and cofounder Hallie Thompson (right).

Foreign correspondent Charlayne Hunter-Gault once said, “If people are informed, they will do the right thing. It's when they are not informed that they become hostages to prejudice.” The Missouri Science and Technology Policy Fellows program aims to bridge the gap between science and policy by stewarding an informed citizenry through the Missouri state government.

Housed within the Graduate School at the University of Missouri, the program recently received a grant of over half a million dollars from the James S. McDonnell Foundation, an organization dedicated to improving people’s quality of life through research and scholarship. The challenge grant will fund two of the five initial fellows while organizers raise funds for three additional fellows. The first fellowship class will launch at the state capitol in Jefferson City in the fall of 2020.

“We are excited about providing state legislators with additional resources to help make informed decisions,” said Rachel Owen, director of the fellowship program. “The fellows will help Missouri serve as a leader at the intersection of science and policymaking.”

Owen and Hendricks stand in the capitol rotunda smiling

Under the leadership of Owen and Hendricks, Missouri is the first state in the Midwest to launch a science and technology fellowship program.

The fellows will assist legislators with scientific research before bills are written, as well as inform them of the benefits and consequences of pending legislation. Additionally, the fellows will create training workshops for legislators and staff, and serve as a consistent resource for policymakers when developing laws that will impact their constituents. Forty-one members of the Missouri General Assembly have signed a letter supporting the establishment of the fellowship program, including Rep. Kip Kendrick of Columbia.

“The presence of these fellows in the Capitol has tremendous potential to help drive evidence-based policymaking at the state level,” Kendrick said. “This partnership will be a win-win, as fellows will have the opportunity to learn more about the legislative process and leave their mark on important policy questions facing our state, while Missouri legislators will benefit from having an unbiased scientific perspective on policy proposals moving through the legislative process.”

Missouri is the first state in the Midwest to launch a science and technology fellowship program. In 2008, California formed a science and technology policy fellowship for recent graduates with science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees and nine other states have established similar programs since.

“Our state faces some tremendous challenges that must be addressed head on with evidence-based policies,” Kendrick said. “The relationship between scientist and policymaker is critical to moving Missouri forward in the 21st century.”

Missouri Sen. Caleb Rowden, who represents Boone County and Cooper County, also believes the fellowship program will benefit the state.

“I think we are becoming more of a data-driven society, and that is slowly starting to be more prominent in policy discussions in Jefferson City,” Rowden said. “In the Missouri Legislature, we are asked to know about a lot of different topics – some of which we had prior experience with, but many we didn’t. Therefore, having entities like the Missouri Science and Technology Policy Fellows to help inform is really important.”

As Missouri is home to nearly 100,000 farms and over 28 million acres of farmland, legislation related to agriculture could be an area in which fellows provide insight.

“A fellow bringing to light more science-based farming policies in the Capitol will help ensure that our laws are consistent with modern farming practices,” Kendrick said. “This benefits not only the farming community, but all residents across our state as agriculture is such a vital part of Missouri’s economy.”

For more on this story, see MOST Policy Initiative receives grant to launch policy fellows program.