July 18, 2024

Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the 50th Anniversary of the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships Program

Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the 50th Anniversary of the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowships Program

MS SCHWIER:  Friends, colleagues, fellows, both current and former, scientific societies, lovers of science and technology, distinguished guests joining virtually and in person, welcome.  My name is Allison Schwier; I am the acting science and technology advisor to the Secretary.

Today we are celebrating science, technology, and innovation fellowships at the department, and the tremendous importance that these fellows have played in incorporating science, technology, and innovation into our day-to-day diplomacy over the last 43 years.

The first of our fellowship programs here at the department was with the American Association for the Advancement of Science – AAAS.  Their Science and Technology Policy Fellowships program started placing fellows into the federal government 50 years ago and continues today.  What a tremendous accomplishment.

I, like so many of you, came into the department through that program.  We all had different life experiences, such as dual degrees, masters, PhDs, post-doctoral research, study abroads, international experiences, teaching, professional careers.  But all of us at some point arrived at the department because we fundamentally believed in the power of science, technology, and innovation to inform U.S. foreign policy and make a difference.

I am honored to be here today on this stage celebrating the milestone of the AAAS fellowships program, and in the efforts and accomplishments of all of you, our fellows, every single day.

Let me now welcome someone who has spent 20 years focused on the nexus of science, policy, and business, with a career spanning the Legislative Branch, the Executive Branch, private sector, the scientific advocacy community, and most recently as the CEO of AAAS.  Please help me welcome Dr. Sudip Parikh.  (Applause.)

MR PARIKH:  Thank you, Allie.  And thank you, Mr. Secretary.  I’m honored that you would host this gathering, this grand event to mark this critical milestone in bringing science to policy.  You’ve given some of the numbers.  Look around.  We’re making history today.  We’re – the AAAS is 175 years old next month.  The Science and Technology Policy Fellowship is 50 years old, and frankly, it’s just getting started.  It’s just getting started.

The program launched in 1973 and was a collaboration with the American Physical Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.  We only placed seven fellows that year, all of them in Congress; all of them in Congress that first year.  Today we place about 300 fellows in all three branches of government, which is extraordinary, absolutely extraordinary.

But the State Department was the first of the Executive Branch agencies to recognize this need for science in policy-making.  And I have to tell you, we are living in a golden age of science.  We’re living in a golden age of science.  We know more about the universe, our planet, and ourselves than we’ve ever known before – than we’ve ever known before.  And on my best, most optimistic days, I say the – science, together with policy, can heal the sick, it can feed the poor, and it can protect the planet.  On my less positive days, on my least optimistic days, I think science can be part of this polarization, science can be part of this disconnect that pulls us apart, and we are lesser for it; we’re lesser.  We’re not able to feed the planet, we’re not able to heal the sick, and we’re not able to ensure that the planet is good and hospitable for all of us for years to come.

But there’s – neither of those visions of the future are inevitable.  What makes them not inevitable, both possible, is the fact that there are people – people, scientists, engineers, diplomats – who are coming together to make this world a better place, to infuse our diplomacy with science and humanity.  And I think that is incredibly powerful.

And I’m so happy to report that our most recent agreement with the State Department and AAAS provides placement for more than 50 fellows at State each year – 50 a year.  That’s yielded more than 700 alumni of the program just from the State Department.  And they – some of them have gone back to the State Department, some of them have gone back to academia, some of them are in business.  And it’s extraordinary that over a hundred of them are still working here at the State Department on our 50th anniversary, and that is – that tells you that this ability to imbue science throughout is valued not just by the scientists – because it is – but by diplomats, by the folks who are making a difference in our policy work.

So again, I want to thank the Secretary.  I want to thank the scientists who participate in this program and just say that none of this could have happened without the support of hundreds of State Department staff who have mentored our fellows over the years, because Allie didn’t become Allie without that.  We need those – that mentorship.  Mentorship is a crucial part of the experience.  Mentors benefit from the fellows’ scientific and technical mindset, and they, the fellows, benefit from their wisdom.  Complex government bureaucracy is a foreign system to many of us, and it’s important to have mentors who – to show the way.

So we’re grateful for the State Department’s commitment, and I can tell you that the AAAS is as committed as ever, in fact more committed.  We see this time in history as an important juncture.  It’s a juncture where science has never been more important.  Science actually is the key to what the future’s going to look like.  With our investments here in the United States, so that we can continue to be the innovative leader, and with that innovation informing our diplomacy, we’re going to continue to lead the world and continue to make it a better place, and continue to make it a better place with the help of Secretary Blinken and Allie.  Thank you, both, very much.  (Applause.)

MS SCHWIER:  So it’s incredible to think the first cohort of AAAS fellows who came to the department in 1980 were three women.  And since then, 700, as Sudip said, have come through the State Department, and more than 150 are actually still here, employed at the State Department.

But since 2000, the department has also launched four additional fellowship programs that continue to bring STEM expertise into our fold, and they are also celebrating significant milestones this year.  Today, we’re celebrating 20 years with the Jefferson Science Fellowship Program, facilitated by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; 20 years of fellows with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers; 22 years of fellows with the American Institute of Physics; and our most recent program with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, which was just launched last year and will have our inaugural fellow this year.

All of the fellows over these five programs have helped ensure that science enliven American statecraft.  Those words were spoken by Secretary Colin Powell when he launched the Jefferson Science Fellowship Program.  And I know that today our Secretary feels exactly the same.

So without further ado, please help me welcome the 71st Secretary of State, Secretary Antony Blinken.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thank you.  Good afternoon, everyone.

Allie, first of all, to you, thank you for the extraordinary work that you have been doing, your team has been doing – not only of course bringing us together today, but to build up, to strengthen, the State Department’s science and technology expertise.  This is mission critical for us, and I’m grateful for your partnership, for your leadership, in doing that.

It’s also wonderful to see so many exceptional fellows, past and present, in this room with us today, and some others who are coming in online.

Milestones that we’re celebrating today are only possible because of the partnerships that we’ve established with so many of the organizations that are in this room.  In particular, I have to thank Sudip Parikh from the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Thank you for this extraordinary partnership, this journey that we’ve been on together now for many, many years.  We were just speaking as we came in, and I have your assurance that you plan to continue it for many years to come, so I’m going to hold you to that word.  But thank you.

To Marcia McNutt from the National Academy of Sciences – is Marcia here with us today?  Just looking out to see.  I think we’ve got a number of other partners who are here – Tom Costabile from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, K. J. Ray Liu from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Michael Moloney from the American Institute of Physics.  These individuals, these organizations, have been critical partners for the State Department, and we deeply, deeply appreciate it.

It’s a pleasure to welcome you all, as well as other colleagues from across the scientific community, here to the State Department and to the Dean Acheson Auditorium.  And in a way, it’s particularly fitting that we’re gathered today in the Dean Acheson.  Back in 1951, Secretary Acheson created the position of advisor to the Secretary on international scientific affairs, recognizing then the growing importance of science and technology to diplomacy.

With the partnership of Congress, the department began welcoming fellows from across the scientific community, starting with the AAAS fellowship in 1980.  And as you’ve heard, in total more than 900 participants across the State Department’s five science and technology programs have strengthened the work of this institution immeasurably.

They’ve served on crisis response teams, supporting West African nations’ response to the Ebola outbreak, helping our Japanese friends respond to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster.  They’ve led our efforts to eradicate HIV/AIDS.  They’ve created programs to help young women in the Middle East to pursue careers in STEM.  And that’s just a small illustrative sample of many of the endeavors that our fellows have been involved in.

Today, we have fellows working on everything from internet freedom and emerging technologies, to health security and global supply chains, to boosting energy security and combating wildlife trafficking.

The imperative that Secretary Acheson felt so many years ago has only become more urgent and more consequential.  We are living through a time when technology is changing nearly every aspect of how we live, how we work, how we compete, from new and evolving biotechnology tools altering the building blocks of life to artificial intelligence changing the production of knowledge.

When I was here during the Obama administration – I’ve now been doing this for about 30 years – at that time, over at the White House on the National Security Council staff, in that windowless situation room in meeting after meeting, something that really jumped out at me was the need to have scientists and technologists around that table literally and figuratively.  It was increasingly evident that so many of the things that we were working on had somewhere in the answer we were seeking a science and technology component.

But the problem is so many of us who are doing these jobs are not actually brought up in the sciences.  And so we need people to be partners with us in guiding us and shaping the policies that we pursue.  It got to the point where I really felt – this will tell you a little bit about my – the strength of my scientific and technological foundation – that I needed scientists and technologists in the room just to tell me whether I needed scientists and technologists in the room.  (Laughter.)

So we’re looking at an incredibly complex multiplicity of problems, more so than at any time – food insecurity, the climate crisis, infectious disease – all with solutions or part of their solutions grounded in technology, grounded in innovation, grounded in science.  And of course all of these challenges span across borders, which is why we have to work with partners around the world if we’re going to get at a durable, sustainable solution.

Back then, when I had a couple of years here at the State Department, we started to act on that and to try to bring us into an even stronger position to engage on science and technology.  We opened our first permanent presence in Silicon Valley.  We didn’t have an office there.  We did.  We started partnerships with some of our great leading science and technology universities, like Stanford, to help us work through problem sets that we had before all of our different bureaus.  And we engaged many of the foundations, looking at discrete problems and how we might be able to bring science and technology together with foreign policy to solve them.

When I had a chance to come back here, I pledged to deploy the full power of our diplomacy to secure our country’s leadership, including in science and technology.

And for me that began with modernizing this institution to make it fit for purpose for that challenge.  Just last year, we launched the Cyberspace and Digital Policy Bureau to try to make sure that the United States continues to play a leading role in shaping the digital revolution that is happening around us to ensure that it upholds our basic values and our basic interests.  Earlier this year, we established an envoy’s office focused on critical and emerging technologies.  Just last week, I launched our new Bureau for Global Health Security and Diplomacy, which will apply the power of American diplomacy to bringing the world together to prevent and, if necessary, prepare for and respond to the next health emergency.

We’re leading on maximizing the potential of artificial intelligence to help solve some of the world’s biggest challenges, from curing cancer to countering the effects of climate change, while also, of course, minimizing its risks.  Just over the past year, we’ve set out a blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights with principles for how automated systems are designed and used.  We developed an AI Risk Management Framework to help improve user protections.  And last month, as I know you all know, President Biden announced a set of commitments from leading companies, focused on mitigating the near-term risks posed by AI while continuing to foster innovation.

Having that now in place – this series of commitments – this department is moving out to try to socialize them internationally, to bring countries together around best practices, around rules of the road for AI, and I think you’ll see in the weeks and months ahead a very engaged effort by the State Department, by the United States to try to shape the international environment when it comes to the use of artificial intelligence.

We’re also increasing opportunities for folks here at the department – both Foreign and Civil Service – to get training on science and technology issues.  We’re offering new courses at our Foreign Service Institute on topics like climate diplomacy, cyber and digital policy, so that our diplomats can lead on science-related issues.

It’s vital that this program, these fellowships continue.  At the same time – and these things complement each other powerfully – I want to make sure that we’re building as much homegrown talent as we possibly can, and that starts with showing the value that we place on science and technology in the work that we’re doing, and that’s manifested by the work that we’re doing both to organize ourselves and to make sure that people have opportunities to get the training that they need so that they can become genuinely expert in these disciplines.

We’re also supporting researchers and innovators around the world.  Some of you may have had some involvement with our TechWomen program, which is just one example, but it’s one that I particularly love.  It’s an international exchange program through which we’ve paired hundreds of entrepreneurs – young entrepreneurs from across Africa, South and Central Asia, the Middle East – with their counterparts in the United States in the tech community.  And I’ve seen this firsthand.  I’ve talked to many of the participants or alumni from TechWomen, and you can see the extraordinarily powerful impact that it has on helping women build these careers, build their knowledge, create stronger networks.

At the end of the day, our open society is at the heart of why we remain so innovative and so dynamic.  That’s why the world’s leading researchers want to come here to the United States and why we’re determined to remain a magnet for talent.  It’s why we’re equally determined to maintain and strengthen the ties that bind our scientists and technologists, so that together we can discover, accelerate, and scale breakthroughs that deliver for our people and for the world.

President Biden likes to say that we’re at an inflection point, one where the decisions that we’re making over the next few years will shape not just those next few years but decades to come.  And that is certainly true – maybe no more true than for science and technology.  So fellowships like the ones that we’re celebrating today are not only a vital part of our past as we celebrate the trajectory we have been on and the long history; they’re not only a part of our present as so many of you in this room are; they’re critical to our future.

So if I can leave you with one ask today, precisely because this is so important to our future, it’s this:  Please continue to partner with us.

To our partners across the scientific community, to our alumni fellows:  Please continue sharing fellowship opportunities with your own networks, particularly with diverse talent from your communities.

To our current fellows, whether you continue in government or choose to take your skills to our nation’s labs, companies, or classrooms:  Stay connected to the department.  There’s nothing that we want more.  Stay connected to the colleagues that you’ve met here.  We need your help to keep growing our partnerships with the private sector and with civil society.  And we need your good ideas, your innovation, your expertise, so that we can help solving big challenges, so that we can continue our work of trying to build a world that’s a little bit safer, a little bit more secure, a little bit more prosperous, a little bit more full of opportunity for our own fellow citizens here in the United States and for people everywhere.  Thank you, thank you, thank you for your service, for your partnership, and I’m looking forward to seeing the extraordinary things that you’ll all continue to do, some of you here at the department or wherever you go from here.  Thank you so much.

Allie, back to you.  (Applause.)

MS SCHWIER:  Everyone, thank you so much for joining us today in this celebration.  For those of you in the audience, we ask you remain in place while we take a few photos and then have the Secretary exit as quickly as possible to get to his next event, which is in one minute.  (Laughter.)  So we will convene for a reception in the delegates’ lounge afterwards.  Fellows, for those of you not seated in the center, please move over right now.  We’re going to come into those three seats, all stand up, and take photo.  Thank you.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-at-the-50th-anniversary-of-the-aaas-science-and-technology-policy-fellowships-program/