Week 3: Interviews, Institutes, and the ICA

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Sunday, June 20, 2021


Casey Roepke

I had hoped the third week of this internship program would find me reaching the top of the learning curve, but it came as a surprise when I experienced that ‘aha!’ moment of things starting to click. Transition periods are challenging for me, but I’ve learned to lean into the discomfort of not knowing what to do and how to do it because, even if it takes longer than I want it to, eventually I will reach that ‘aha’ moment.

For me, this week was the first time that I actually felt settled in my role. Sure, I still asked my mentor plenty of questions, and there were moments when I made mistakes and had to spend a lot of time trying to correct them, but I also found a good balance between independent work and engaging with my colleagues. I'm starting to actually feel confident in knowing why I was working on my chosen projects.

I think one tangible aspect of my week that helped me feel more confident and comfortable was my individual mentor meetings. Having a set time twice a week to check in with Lisa and Robert allowed me to ask questions, problem solve, seek feedback, and hear their advice on my tasks. 

I attended fewer meetings and webinars this week, and as a result I had more time to dig deeper into my projects. I finished updating the institute contact information sheet, which I had spent a great deal of time on (and learned some Excel skills in the process!). I also learned more about proposed reorganization efforts of the Office of Advanced Manufacturing.

On Wednesday, I conducted an interview with John Roth, a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of New Hampshire. He previously served as an American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Fellow at NIST. Along with Zara, the Communications Director for the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office, I am working on a communications project about NIST fellows. Dr. Roth shared a lot of amazing ideas about advanced manufacturing and demonstrated a truly inspiring passion for giving back in public service. I look forward to conducting more interviews with other fellows!

My biggest project for this week was reading and analyzing a piece of legislation called the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. The U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, or U.S. ICA for short (affectionately pronounced as ‘you-seek-ah’), recently passed the Senate and is aimed at investing in advanced manufacturing development, expansion, and innovation. Manufacturing USA is mentioned 41 times in the 2000+ page bill, and I was tasked with finding each of those mentions and deciphering (1) what Manufacturing USA was being asked to do, (2) who Manufacturing USA was being asked to collaborate with, and (3) why the section is important. While I have some experience in reading political texts, this was a long and complicated one, so it took me a lot of time and energy to understand the legislative language. I took a lot of notes and converted them into a two-column document with the actual bill text on the left and my “translation” on the right. I hope that my work will be useful for others in the office! 

On the SPS side of things, the intern cohort got together to play a virtual version of Werewolf (also known as Mafia) — and wow, I did not know how talented my fellow interns were at acting! Unfortunately, I was the first to die in the game… but it was lots of fun nevertheless!

We also attended a lecture by Dr. Kiril Streletzky, the incoming SPS National President. He spoke about his Light Scattering Spectroscopy Lab and the value of undergraduate physics research. As an undergraduate physics researcher myself, I found his lecture very interesting!

In unrelated news, I learned a very interesting and entertaining fact this week. Allen Astin was the director of NIST from 1951 until 1969. His son, John Astin, played Gomez Addams in “The Addams Family.” John Astin’s son, Sean Astin, played Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings franchise. So, in a way, one could argue that NIST is responsible for the success of the LoTR movies. How’s that for a fun fact? :) 

On Thursday, President Biden signed into law the observance of Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Because NIST operates within the Department of Commerce, we did not work on Friday in observance of Juneteenth. I highly encourage you to learn about the history of Juneteenth and the legacy that extends into this year’s recognition of the holiday. I recommend this link as a starting place.


Casey Roepke (she/her)