SPSer Seeks Sustainability

Share This:



Special Feature

SPSer Seeks Sustainability

Physicist-Politician Champions Food Movement on Campus


Ashley Finger
Fulbright Fellow, University of Luxembourg Laboratory for Photovoltaics and
2014 AIP Mather Public Policy Intern

Ashley Finger

My introduction to policy had no relation to physics. It grew from my experiences with the Student Government Association (SGA) during my sophomore year at Davidson College in North Carolina, before I had even declared my major in physics. As director of environmental affairs for SGA, my job was to represent environmental organizations and keep student government on track to fulfill promises to the student body related to environmental goals. I met with the administration, petitioned for change, and spearheaded efforts to engage with the greater community.

Our main accomplishment was drafting and passing a resolution that asked dining services to commit to increasing the portion of its budget allocated to local and sustainable foods. While the immediate impact was minor, the resolution demonstrated that students were conscientious about where their food was coming from. This awareness fueled a shift on campus toward a more sustainable food-consumption model, and Davidson ultimately started its own organic farm that supplies produce to the main dining hall.

My activism remained focused on environmental issues, including sustainable food, land conservation, and renewable energy. Until my senior year, physics and political engagement were separate spheres of my life. I dreaded eventually having to prioritize one or the other.

Then, over the course of only a few months, I heard about, applied for, and received a Society of Physics Students AIP Mather Public Policy Internship that allowed me to spend a summer in Washington, DC, where I worked in the House of Representatives for the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The committee’s broad policy portfolio included issues related to the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Department of Energy. I no longer had the feeling of “having to choose” between my wide range of interests. I had found a niche that brought them all together.

After my internship, I traveled to Luxembourg on a Fulbright Fellowship to study photovoltaics at the University of Luxembourg for a year. I am passionate about research, but I have realized that it is not something I can see myself doing long-term.

Becoming a lawyer has been in the back of my head ever since I competed in mock trial team in elementary school and high school. During my time on the Hill I was surrounded by people who bridged the gap between science and law, lawyers who got excited about NASA projects and scientists who were actively writing law. My brain, I have learned, seems to be wired to think like a lawyer; I even enjoyed taking the LSAT! Next year I will attend the University of Virginia School of Law, the beginning of a new path to science policy for me.

The AIP Mather Public Policy Intern Program

John C. Mather, who shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics for his precise measurements of the primordial heat radiation of the big bang, turned his sights to a more earthly ambition when he spent part of his prize money to establish the AIP Mather Public Policy Intern Program.

The program is funded by the John and Jane Mather Foundation for Science and the Arts, and administered by the Society of Physics Students and the Government Relations Division of the American Institute of Physics. Each summer, the program brings two undergraduate physics majors to Washington, DC, to work in congressional offices and experience the political process first-hand. 2015 will be the fifth year of the program.

For more information about applying, visit www.spsnational.org/programs/internships/.

More from this department

Special Feature